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In Loving Memory of Katherine Hamilton


  An elbow to the rib cage was her way of giving you a love tap or simply making some space for herself. Hamilton was not a dirty player. She would check to see if you were okay, help you up, and destroy you. It was basketball court etiquette. The 6-foot-1 forward did not talk trash, either. 

  Had Street & Smith Magazine decided to write an article about sportsmanship and mental and physical toughness, Hamilton would have been the perfect candidate to feature on the front cover and the center spread story. She embodied the spirit of competition. The skilled, gentle giant let her game say everything college coaches and foes needed to know about her.    The fearless, cerebral, self-disciplined competitor sacrificed her game for the team. 

   Hamilton was the consummate teammate and floor leader. Outside the lines, she was quiet, very low-key, helpful, humble, and articulate, the girl next door type who followed a straight and narrow path, which led her to embark on a collegiate career only a selected few have equaled or surpassed at UCI.  

   In 1979, the aforementioned attributes convinced UC Irvine Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach Dean Andrea, in his second year at the helm- to make Hamilton his prized recruit, and he was overjoyed when she elected to become an Anteater after her stellar high school career at Long Beach Jordan High.

 “She was just a top-notch individual. She was just a wonderful, warm person,’’ Andrea said. “She had a strong personality, but she was a very nurturing woman.

 “I had a very young ball club. I was bringing in a number of freshmen. I needed to get players willing to sacrifice themselves for the betterment of the program. 

 “That was Katherine,’’ he added. “She was extremely talented and came from a wonderful family. I am so taken back by her death.”  

 Hamilton’s star shined brightly amongst her peers. Ten years after she accepted an offer to play at UCI, school officials inducted her into the Anteaters Athletic Hall of Fame. Today, she is the first female basketball player to earn a place in the pantheon of Anteaters.

    The night of her induction ceremony was one of the highlights of her basketball life.  At the gala affair, officials presented to her a plaque with her likeness. 

    A photographer captured a rare moment of Hamilton wearing a dress, lipstick, foundation, a necklace, earrings, and her trademark smile. 

    If you knew Katherine during her wonder years, you would know blue jeans, athletic T-shirts, sneakers, and a press-and-curl hairstyle were how she rolled (wouldn’t be seen anywhere wearing makeup and a dress unless it was a special occasion). 

    “I was very happy for her and her family,’’ Andrea said about Hamilton’s induction into the Hall of Fame. “It was a personal accomplishment for Katherine and well deserved. 

    “She was a great recruit for us. She was a leader on and off the floor. She was a total player. She did everything at both ends of the court and played tenacious defense. In those days, we were limited skill-wise. So she led us in every category. She was our first woman basketball player inducted into the Hall of Fame. She paved the way for a very successful program.

    “Everybody measured the success of the program by Katherine Hamilton,’’ Andrea added. “She was well-loved by people in the athletic department and her teammates.’’ 

    “I coached with the men’s basketball team for a number of years and then started coaching the women,’’ Andrea said, “I know there were no African-American women in my first year.  

    “This is going back to the late 1970s. There weren’t a lot of women athletes at UC Irvine. Programs weren’t developed yet.”

    In the early 1970s, the Anteaters established women’s tennis and volleyball teams. Basketball began the 1974-1975 season.

    “Initially, we were underfunded,’’ said Andrea about the humble beginnings of women’s collegiate athletics. “It was very difficult. We had a very small budget. We had very few scholarships. Most of your players came because they wanted to get a good education. 

    “A lot of our players came because they wanted to play with Katherine,’’ he continued.        

   “She was such a dynamite player in high school that she attracted other players.’’ Former Long Beach City College women’s basketball and volleyball coach Donna Prindle, who played both sports for Cal State Long Beach in 1972 and 1973, said that collegiate programs offered a minimum of partial scholarships or athletic tuition during this era.   Andrea said. “We had a little money for her, not much at all. We didn’t have scholarship money like it is today.’’

    Despite this, Hamilton thrived. By the end of her senior year-- in 1983, she held all the career records. Her 1,768 career points, 700 field-goals-made, and 368 free-throws-made are still the best of all time. Her 901 career-rebound record stood for 15 years. Now, it is second on the all-time list behind Leticia Oseguera, a UCI Hall of Famer who competed between 1994-1998. She holds the record at 969 boards. 

    In other categories, Hamilton remains in the top five and 10. She is the first woman Anteater to record over 1,000 career points and over 900 rebounds. 

     In 1979, she averaged 18 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. She tallied 57 assists, 33 block shots, 41 steals, 198 rebounds, and 504 points for the season. The Anteaters finished with a dismal 14-14 overall record and 5-4 in the Southern California Athletic Association Conference (Renamed the Big West Conference after the 1982-1983 season concluded). 

     In her junior season, Hamilton averaged 15.6 ppg., and 8 rpg. She finished with 61 assists, 33 block shots, 36 steals, 208 boards and 405 points. UCI finished (16-12 and 5-5 in the SCAAC).

     During the 1980-1981 campaign, her sophomore year, Hamilton averaged 16 ppg. and 8.8 ppg., and finished with 70 assists, 39 block shots, 54 steals, 221 rebounds, and 399 points. The team finished (17-11, 6-6).

     As a freshman, Hamilton became the first Anteater selected to the All-SCAAC team. She averaged 16.4 ppg. and 9.8 rpg. She recorded 38 block shots, 43 steals, and 35 assists for the season. The team finished 10-19 overall. 

     Hamilton left quite an impression at Jordan High, too. In her senior year, she averaged 21.7 ppg., earned Moore League Most Value Player honors, selected to the all-league team for the third consecutive year, and placed on the All-CIF Southern Section Division 4-A second team, which was the highest division in those days.

    “Katherine was a top player in CIF. Obviously, when coaching, you’re familiar with the best players, especially in Southern California,’’ Andrea said. “(Southern California) is where we emphasized our recruitment efforts. I watched Katherine play throughout her high school career. I wanted a shot at her. It was a difficult situation mainly because many college coaches wanted her. We sold her on that she could come in as a freshman and start.”

    There is a caption on the side of a black and white classic photo inside the Jordan High 1979 Yearbook. It eloquently summarizes why she took basketball more seriously. 

   “Basketball was something for me to do with my spare time when I was in elementary and Jr. High (schools),’’ Katherine wrote. “When I came to Jordan, I was ‘told that if I worked on my skills and abilities, I could become someone.’ High school basketball was different from recreation ball. It was harder, more competitive, and more of a team sport than an individual sport,’’ she explained. 

    “A game depends on how well you play with everyone else and how well you get along. When you compete against other teams, you either make friends or enemies,’’ Katherine continued. “Basketball is big with women now, and colleges are going out for women. Basketball is not only a sport, but it helps you stay in school to further your education and to get further in life.’’ 

    In 1977, Gary Ellis- an Independent Press-Telegram Sports Columnist- wrote that Hamilton scored 18 of her 22 points in the second half to help the Panthers erase a 12-point halftime deficit and eke out a 58-55 victory over Poly, a Moore League rival.  

    Jordan High’s legendary girls’ basketball coach, Lorie Lindahl, had turned up the pressure, implemented a motion offense, and told the Panthers to attack Poly’s best player, Thera Smith, inside the paint. Hamilton did.

    In the third quarter, Smith, an ALL-CIF Southern  Section selection, fouled out. Jordan High forced the Jackrabbits to commit about 12 turnovers. 

    “She was very hard to guard,’’ said Denise Swann, her teammate at Jordan High. “She was very skilled. It was unbelievable. It was as if she already knew what to do on the court. She was a great around player, the best one on the team all of the years I was there.’’  

    In her sophomore year, in 1977, Katherine led the Lady Panthers to their first Moore League basketball first-place finish in school history, a share of the league crown with Poly. Each team finished with 8-2 records in league. During the regular season, Jordan finished with an overall record of 9-3.  

    In the first round, Jordan hosted Torrance while the Jackrabbits (12-4) traveled to Gahr. Press-Telegram sportswriter Elaine Risinger wrote their playoff berths were the first time the Moore League girls’ basketball teams advanced to the CIF-SS playoffs. Torrance prevailed, 50-49, and Poly fell to the Gladiators, 66-65.

    “She was a big girl and gifted,’’ said Tap Nixon, who coached Hamilton during parks and recreation basketball at Romona Park.  “She had more skills than the rest of those girls. She was pretty dominant. Katherine could do anything she wanted to do (on the court). 

   “(At Jordan, she played) down low and different spots on the floor,’’ Nixon added. “She had good footwork, but sometimes, she could be lazy,’’ he admitted. “She needed to quit playing around.’’

    Nixon, who had competed for Long Beach State’s legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian, conducted practices for young ladies on the blacktop some summer afternoons. Top local college and high school players participated. Katherine- an aggressive, physical player- was right with them.  Punishment- in the paint- was distributed evenly to everyone playing between the lines.  

    Katherine never backed down males, either. Chris Willis, the Lakewood High boys co-head varsity basketball coach, said Hamilton made a big impression on him as a youth athlete. She was several years older than him, but he saw her play against high school and college players during pick-up games at a local park.  “What stood out to me about her was, especially in her era, she had great size but wasn’t limited to being a back-to-the-basket player. She had a smooth jump shot, had a good ball-handling skill-set,’’ Willia said. “Most of all, she was tough, wasn’t going to back down to anyone, highly physical. When I say physical, I mean in all aspects of the game. She didn’t avoid contact. She sought out contact. She was not afraid to mix it up. The funny part is she was not afraid to foul the S…t out of you. That is why she was so dominant when she played ladies,’’ he explained. “She was so impressive because she could step out 15 to 16 feet from the basket and be an effective shooter. She had a high IQ, was very knowledgeable of the game, and communicated well with teammates. Some times, it rubbed some of the older guys the wrong way. She held her ground. ... I was sadden to learn of her death, but she left an awesome legacy. I am a fan of good basketball and good players— no matter gender,’’ Willis stated. “She was a person who I could look up to. She had a lot more to give to the community and youth.’’

    Barry Barnes, the Long Beach City College men’s head coach, echoed some of the same sentiments about Katherine. He knew her before their parks and recreation days. “She was a very professional, very talented individual. She reminded me of Tim Duncan: quiet, very fundamentally sound for her size, a great all-around player. You know she had to be pretty good to get a scholarship coming (from) Long Beach Jordan High and becoming an all-conference player her freshman season at UC Irvine. She never boasted about what kind of player she was or what she achieved.’’

     Lisa Ulmer, the Moore League Secretary, played against Katherine in high school and college. “I met her at the Olympic Developmental League at Cal State Los Angeles,’’ said Ulmer, a Cal Poly Pomona Hall of Famer.    “We had this one summer league that was available to us. We were fortunate to be at an age where we could take advantage of it. Katherine was a very good player in high school,’’ Ulmer added. “She was ferocious man! You didn’t want to mess with Katherine. She was very physical, a good shooter, a very talented athlete. I had to guard her. She didn’t pull any punches ... just wanted to win, a very competitive player. She understood the game and would exploit your weaknesses. Katherine was a foundational piece. All the women we see (today) are prospering because of girls like Katherine, who laid the groundwork. These women now are making millions of dollars. They owe players like Katherine, who came up 45 years ago, a ‘thank you’.’’ 

     On Jan. 13, 1961, Katherine was born to Daisy and Earlie Hamilton Sr. and later raised in a home near Houghton Park. She came from a highly competitive household of athletes. If Earlie Jr., Thomas and Peal Hamilton competed in sports, the information isn’t available.  Chris, Adrienne, LaTishue and Katherine participated in athletics. As a youth, Katherine competed in basketball, volleyball, softball and flag football at park programs, and she participated in various sports at Alexander Hamilton Junior High. 

     In the 1990s, she embraced becoming a great mother to her niece, Denisha.

 Katherine is preceded in death by her parents, Earlie Sr. and Daisy, and siblings Earlie Jr., Chris, and Adrienne. In addition to leaving Denisha, LaTishue, Thomas and Pearl behind to cherish her memory, Katherine leaves nephews, nieces, and friends.

Katherine Inducted into UCI Hall of Fame
Katherine Hamilton is inducted to UCI Hall of Fame In 1989
Katherine Hamilton is selected Moore League Player of the Year. She averages 21.7 ppg. and selected to All-CIF-SS Div. 4-A second team

Katherine sets the benchmark in career points, field goals made and free throws made. As a freshman, she is selected to the Southern California Athletic Association Conference team.

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