North Texas Daily

Tennis coach brings reciprocal style to team

Tennis coach brings reciprocal style to team

Tennis coach brings reciprocal style to team
April 06
23:59 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

Associate tennis head coach Jeff Hammond’s road to North Texas started 465 miles away in Memphis, Tennessee, at a national clay court convention in 2004, the first time he met head coach Sujay Lama. Little did Hammond know, their careers would cross paths much sooner than anticipated.

At the time, Hammond was the assistant coach at Texas Christian University under Dave Borelli, one of the winningest coaches in women’s collegiate tennis history and a friend of Lama’s. Lama was then the head coach at the University of Illinois, but became close friends with Hammond early in his tenure at North Texas.

Now with the Mean Green, Hammond said Lama’s high energy level immediately caught his attention the first time they met.North Texas Mean Green 2014/2015 Tennis

Associate head coach Jeff Hammond

“That always made an impression on me, that he was just wide-eyed,” Hammond said. “He looked like he had just had a coffee for sure. He was ready to go. That’s just how he lived.”

After spending two seasons as assistant coach at TCU, Hammond served as head coach from 2007-2010. Hammond led the Horned Frogs to four consecutive Mountain West Conference titles while maintaining a top-25 ranking and coaching five of the 10 All-Americans in school history.

“Part of my leaving there was the idea that I was looking for a new challenge,” Hammond said. “I spent two years actually searching for the right situation for me and my wife and our jobs.”

Hammond decided staying in Texas would be best for his family and became assistant coach at Southern Methodist University in 2012. Hammond said the culture of the Dallas area combined with its athletic competitiveness for his two sons reminded him of growing up in the Midwest.

“Even though Dallas-Forth Worth has 7 million strong in the metroplex, the fact that everything is so spread out, it really does feel a lot to me like Indianapolis,” Hammond said.

When an opening became available on his staff in 2014, Lama did not hesitate to reach out to Hammond. Lama said he wanted to work with the very best, and didn’t want an assistant to agree with everything he said.

“I want somebody to challenge my thoughts, my ways and stimulate me and get me outside the box, and that’s what [Hammond] does,” Lama said.

Now, in his first full season at North Texas, Hammond has shared the head coaching duties equally with Lama, including a big role: recruiting players throughout the season.

“I’ve always believed that people I bring to work with me should be seasoned so that they can come and teach me, too,” Lama said. “I want to learn from them as much as I would hope they want to learn from me, and that’s how you improve a program.”

At a young age, Hammond saw his love for tennis as part of a family tradition, as six older siblings all succeeded both athletically and academically. After a short stint playing pro tennis, Hammond pursued other job opportunities, but always taught tennis on the side. Hammond said his wife convinced him to become a coach early in their marriage.

“It’s the only thing I’ve ever loved to do,” Hammond said. “When you find something you like, you need to stick with it.”

With the national championship experience of Lama and Hammond as assistants with the University of Florida and the University of Southern California, respectively, the coaching duo has the same aspirations for the future of North Texas.

“As tough as our season has looked in the win-loss column, this has been a great group that’s had excellent effort and attitude,” Hammond said. “We feel like we’re on track to take the program farther and farther.”

Lama said he looks at Hammond as another head coach because he’s so experienced, which reaps benefits throughout the season.

“When you’ve got one more person out there, the way I look at it, two brains and two minds is a lot bigger than one brain and one mind,” Lama said.

Junior Agustina Valenzuela said Hammond’s organization skills and caring attitude towards players have brought a new dimension to the team.

“Coach Hammond is always trying to [focus on] more technical stuff, so he’s talking and trying to explain why we do stuff wrong,” Valenzuela said.

Hammond said he and Lama plan to stick together for the foreseeable future and hope to take North Texas to the next level.

“He’s so set in how he wants to run the program, and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly in how he does it,” Hammond said.

Featured Image: Associate head coach Jeff Hammond, right, high fives junior Anastasiya Shestakov after a match against Texas Christian University of April 1. Photos courtesy of Rick Yeatts.

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