Hammonds finds niche as freshman at Air Force

Justin Hammonds didn’t come to Air Force with the reputation of a
defensive stopper. He was a typical high school star, averaging
more than 15 points as a senior. When he got to Air Force, he was
just one of many freshmen stuck behind five veteran starters,
hoping for playing time. And Hammonds stood out by dedicating
himself to defense. “I just realized what would keep me in the
games,” Hammonds said. “When I found that out, I realized that was
a main thing I had to do.” Hammonds didn’t play in four of Air
Force’s five games. That has changed. He is averaging 17.6 minutes
off the bench over the Falcons’ past nine games, and will be one of
the first players off the bench against Colorado State on Saturday.
While he provides an occasional basket, he keeps getting playing
time because he gives the Falcons solid defense off the bench.
“Justin Hammonds has been the biggest surprise off all the freshmen
at this point,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “He’s given us
some consistent minutes. He’s got a really bright future here.”
Hammonds is far from a finished product. He discovered a role that
would get him on the floor as a freshman, but he understands he
needs to do more in future years. “I know for sure I’ve got to
improve my jump shot,” Hammonds said. “If people are going to take
me seriously as a complete player, I have to contribute on offense
and not just defense.” Hammonds also wants to add 20 pounds to his
195-pound frame, which would help. While the 6-foot-7 forward has
some problems with stronger forwards, he tries to find edges
elsewhere. He watches film to find tendencies of opponents, and
stays locked in on the bench during games. He said the mental part
of the game is much different than high school. He talked about
being in walk-throughs before the games, and coaches discussing
multiple plays the opponents will run and how Air Force should
guard them. He has done a good job picking that up, but when he
gets confused, he just plays hard. “If I don’t remember, I just use
my instincts and show my effort,” Hammonds said. His attitude has
been a hit with the coaches. He said they told him during his
recruitment that if he had a good attitude and worked hard he would
get minutes, and he took that to heart. Even though he bypassed the
prep school, and direct-in freshmen at Air Force usually need time
to pick up the Falcons’ offensive and defensive schemes. Hammonds
has shocked the coaches by how quickly he has become a part of the
rotation. “Justin Hammonds probably has more basketball savvy than
anyone in our program,” Reynolds said. “You tell him one thing one
time and he’s got it. He’s like a sponge. He’s fun to coach.”
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891 Twitter @GazetteAirForce Facebook
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