Basketball career winds down for former West star Hampton

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 23, 2008

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
The Hillary Hampton-Joe Nixon wedding is set for December.
Former Catawba lineman Nixon, the son and grandson of football coaches and now an assistant coach himself at West Rowan, is delighted with the timing. There’s a potential conflict between the ceremony at Catawba’s Omwake-Dearborn Chapel and the scheduling of the 3A state championship game.
“Hill can make history, and it would make the greatest story ever,” Nixon announced. “Hill can be the ultimate football wife. Get married and then go on to the state championship game ó if we make it.”
With talented tailback K.P. Parks, there’s always a chance West will make it, but Hampton, a Catawba senior, isn’t thrilled with the possibility of dealing with a two-minute warning to change clothes. Shedding her veil and train while racing from the chapel to support the Falcons sounds as appealing as a five-mile jog at 5 a.m. “Joe would be thrilled and thinks that it would be the best thing in the world,” Hampton said with a laugh. “But that’s already going to be a really stressful day. I’m not sure I need a football game.”
Nixon is well aware his fiancee has a history of successful multi-tasking. On March 1, 2006, Hampton scored a basket for Catawba’s basketball team against Tusculum. Exactly one week later, Hampton scored a run for Catawba’s softball team against Coker.
Hampton has played basketball at Catawba for four seasons, and she also helped out the softball team for two. That sort of versatility is rare these days.
“It really is,” said Indians basketball coach Angie Morton, who played field hockey, softball and basketball for Catawba. “With all the individual skills you have to develop and the conditioning you need to compete at the college level, each sport is year-round now.”
A 2004 West graduate, Hampton was one of the top three-sport athletes in Rowan County prep history. She made seven all-conference teams and 10 all-county squads in basketball, softball and volleyball.
She was county player of the year in basketball in 2002, when stiff competition included Shayla Fields and Maggie Rich. She was Rowan’s co-player of the year in softball in 2003 and the county’s female athlete of the year in 2004.
A softball infielder all her life, Hampton attended an instructional camp and became a catcher when West needed one. She turned out to be great behind the plate and was a huge part of West’s state championships in 2002 and 2003.
Her jersey was retired at West to celebrate a basketball career that included 79 victories, four seasons as the varsity’s leading scorer and a school-record 1,814 points.
When she was called to the stage to cap senior awards night, administrators handed her commemorative balls until the equipment room was empty.
Hampton was pursued by Western Carolina, but her college choice ultimately came down to Wingate and Catawba. Wingate was close, but Catawba was even closer, so she stayed home.
Morton started recruiting Hampton when she was the coach at Pfeiffer and was thrilled to land Hampton after she was hired at Catawba.
“Hillary’s a family girl, and we were excited because we like to get those family girls,” Morton said.
Hampton’s basketball career at Goodman Gym began with a whisper. She started just two games her freshman year and barely dented the scoring chart.
“Hillary came in here and got very limited minutes her first year,” Morton said. “A lot of times freshmen come in expecting minutes to be handed to them, but Hillary never said a word of complaint. There wasn’t a day she didn’t work hard to make herself better, and there wasn’t a day when she wasn’t a good teammate.”
After her freshman season, Hampton realized she’d have to get quicker to succeed in the SAC, and she did it. She’s started most of Catawba’s games the last three seasons, even though illness and a shoulder injury limited her the past month.
Throughout Hampton’s career, Morton could count on her for nine points, a couple of 3s, a few assists and automatic free throws in the fourth quarter.
“This year, it’s been very tough for Hillary with all the injuries, but she’s still been all you could want from a senior captain,” Morton said.
The team highlight for Hampton was a 20-9 record her junior season when the Indians stayed healthy and got a few bounces. She also got the rare opportunity to play in Hawaii with her teammates that season.
The individual highlight came early her junior year at St. Augustine’s. She’ll never forget Nov. 21, 2006.
“We go to St. Aug’s, and I think we got to Raleigh at 6:45 for a 7 o’clock game,” Hampton said. “There was no time to warm up, but then I come out and go 6-for-6 on 3-pointers. I had a chance to shoot a seventh one, but I was too nervous.”
Hampton scored 20 points to lead a Catawba victory and earned ink in the school record book. The previous mark for 3s in a game without a miss was 4-for-4.
Hampton planned to concentrate on basketball and academics at Catawba and had no plans to get involved with softball even though her first cousin and West teammate Jac White was the Indians’ first baseman.
But when the softball team lost players Hampton’s sophomore year, she got calls wondering if she might be interested in suiting up after basketball was finished.
“The softball team had a need,” Morton said. “Hillary was willing to try.”
Hampton was in uniform swinging a bat as Catawba’s designated player before the week was out. On her second day, she hit her first college homer against Pfeiffer and was 5-for-7 in a doubleheader.”I hadn’t swung a bat in two years,” Hampton said with a smile. “Maybe we should take more breaks.”
Hampton played second base and batted .365 with seven homers and 22 RBIs. Those numbers made her an All-SAC second team selection even though she missed the first 16 games.
Hampton again joined the softball team after her junior basketball season. She started 20 games on the diamond, hit a couple of homers and contributed to a 41-win season, but her impact wasn’t as great as her sophomore year.
Dealing with a shoulder injury and with graduation just a few months away, she’s not going to play softball this spring.
The Indians, who are much deeper than they were two seasons ago, shouldn’t need her.
“The two years I played softball here, it was just love for the game, but when I think about it and look back on it, I have no clue how I did it,” Hampton said. “A lot of times it was softball for three hours, then in the gym for two hours, and then homework. There haven’t been any breaks basically with the seasons one right after the other. Basketball always starts the first day of school, and there’s been no Christmas breaks or spring breaks for a long time.
“Still, it’s all been fun, my four years have gone by before I could turn around, and I realize how fortunate I am. A lot of people want to play a sport past high school, but not many get the chance.”
Much less to play two.
Nixon, trying hard to get back in Hampton’s good graces, got in the last word.
“Even playing two sports, Hill was on the dean’s list every quarter,” he said. “That’s amazing.”
Hampton will stay in the area and work as an elementary school teacher.
She also plans to survive a wedding ó and maybe a football game.

Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or