In four seasons at Laney High School, Jaiden Hamilton lost just 10 games. By Jan. 16 of her freshman year at Georgia Southern this past season, the Eagles already had 11 losses.
That didn’t sit right with Hamilton.
Her winning mentality was a big selling point for coach Anita Howard. Though Howard didn’t have an athletic scholarship to give Hamilton, she went to Statesboro on an academic one. Before the season was over, Hamilton had an athletic scholarship as well.
Hamilton became comfortable with winning during her time playing under Laney coach Otis Smart. That wasn’t going to change in college. So when the team went on a losing streak and nobody stepped up, it was the walk-on Hamilton that voiced her frustration.
“I’m not used to this, losing is not something I’m used to,” Hamilton recalled telling her teammates. “I’m not about to get here and get used to. I came here to be part of the change.”
The rest of the team got the message.
“It brought it back to those seniors on the team that losing is not acceptable,” Howard said. “And for the freshman to say that with so much passion behind her voice, it made everyone kind of play in practice a little bit tougher.”
That is the culture Howard wants to build at Georgia Southern and Hamilton is the nucleus of helping Howard change it.
“Bringing in someone like Jaiden who is used to winning, coming from a very solid high school program, she brought that competitive fight,” Howard said.
Howard, who also finished her first year at Georgia Southern, said Hamilton’s transition, like most freshmen, was a challenge in the beginning. At Laney, Hamilton was the star. At Georgia Southern, Hamilton was the underdog. While she wasn’t used to playing that role, Hamilton didn’t shy away from the challenge.
Following summer workouts, Howard said Hamilton came back inspired and ready for the season and started her first game on Nov. 23 against Bethune-Cookman.
“I came in just with a mindset that I’m still being recruited or something like that because I was not on scholarship, everyone else was,” Hamilton said. “They treated me the same, it was nothing different. They treated me like everybody else.”
As the season progressed, Hamilton earned the respect of her teammates and coaches. By Jan. 25, a home game against Georgia State, Hamilton had earned an athletic scholarship.
“I knew what I was getting when I asked her to come and walk on,” Howard said. “So for us to be able to give her a scholarship, it was really good. There were no reservations. She was worth a scholarship and she earned it.”
Her success in year one has set the tone for year two. In her freshman year, she averaged seven points, good for top-5 on last year’s team. She also had 21 starts and played in all 30 games for the Eagles.
Entering the year, Hamilton had to find her place. Now, she’s a focal point of the team moving forward.
Hamilton’s nickname, ‘The Ticket,” means she’s the hottest show in Statesboro and everyone wants to see her play, according to Howard. And Hamilton doesn’t plan on settling now that she’s earned her scholarship.
“I don’t wan’t people to think, ‘Oh she got a scholarship, now she don’t play the same,’” Hamilton said. “I’m still gon’ be me, I’m still gon’ have that same dog, I’m still gon’ come out with the same energy like I did. It’s just gon’ be 10 times better.”