This story originally appeared in the Nov. 10 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To get these stories first, subscribe here.
It was one of those rare occasions when Anna Hamilton felt like she had an off night on the basketball court. The Conner High School two-sport standout missed several makeable attempts in a December game last season at Franklin County. She made just two shots from the field and finished with seven points. It was the point guard’s lowest scoring game of the season to date. The Cougars lost by 17.
Though she played her usual stellar defense that night while filling up the stat sheet, Hamilton wasn’t too happy about her shooting.
About two hours later in the still of the late evening, Hamilton arrived at home following an 80-mile return trip from Frankfort. She parked the car on the street. She cleared the driveway, went into the garage and pulled out the self-rebounding shooting machine. She grabbed a couple flashlights off a shelf to help illuminate the dimly lit driveway, pulled out a basketball and went to work before she went to bed.
Hamilton usually calls it a day around 10 pm. That chilly night after the debacle at Franklin County, she stayed up way past her bedtime and shot basketballs.
“The neighbors probably don’t appreciate that so late at night,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure they’re like, ‘There she goes again.’ But I had to get those shots in. I didn’t play well. We had a game the next day, and I needed the practice.”
Hamilton estimates she took about 200 shots, including free throws, jumpers and some from 3-point range. The next day against Madison Central, Hamilton scored a game-high 15 points. Later that night when she got home, she went straight to bed.
“Even though we lost and I didn’t shoot that great, I felt a lot better after shooting in the driveway. I felt a lot more confident, and I started to play better,” Hamilton said. “I think I shot from 10 to 11 pm that night. But nobody complained.”
Least of all her coach.
“I’ve known Anna since she was in the eighth grade, my first year with the team, and we have been joined at the hip ever since,” said Conner coach Michelle Gambrel, who played on the only Conner back-to-back 9th Region championship team in 1990 and 1991. “You have to love a girl like Anna who works so hard.”
When it comes to getting better at basketball, Hamilton can’t be contained. The Northern Kentucky University commit has worked on her game indoors on gym floors, outside on asphalt, on concrete, on grass, in backyards and, of course, in driveways. She keeps a basketball in her car at all times, just in case she needs one.
“Anna’s been a captain since she was a sophomore, and the girls vote on that,” Gambrel said. “They know she works hard. The girl is a gym rat. She’ll go anywhere and do anything to work on her game. She is on a mission when she’s in the gym.”
Hamilton helped the Conner volleyball team earn its first regional tournament win Oct. 23. The Cougars season ended two days later. The next day, Hamilton and fellow senior volleyballers Aubree Depenbrock and Payton Gutzwiller joined the basketball team for their first day of practice.
“When Anna showed up, everything changed — the vibe, the tone, the energy,” Gambrel said. “Practice was louder and more intense. And, of course, the team met its daily practice goals quicker with Anna around. She just lifts everybody up.”
Pound for pound, the 5-foot-7 Hamilton just might be the best all-around girls basketball player in the 9th Region.
“I’m a defensive coach, and Anna is a lockdown defender. She always wants to guard the other team’s best player,” Gambrel said. “She’s a great help-side defender. She can rebound. She can take a charge. She goes to the weight room and doesn’t get pushed around. On offense, she can create her own shot and score. She creates shots for other players. She’s a great transitional player.”
Hamilton was a Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference first-team pick last season after averaging 15.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. She shot 40.2% from the field, 38.8% from 3-point range and 81.7% on free throws. She scored her 1,000th career point, joining brother Landen Hamilton, who graduated.
What can she do for an encore? With three of last season’s top four scorers gone, don’t be surprised if Hamilton scores closer to 20 points per game with more action off the dribble in addition to those floaters in the paint, midrange jumpers and pull-up 3-pointers. Making the statewide Top 5 in free throw shooting percentage is a goal. She finished 14th last year and led the region.
“There’s so much she can do. She’s a coach’s dream,” Gambrel said. “I’m really excited to see her play this season.”