UBC Thunderbirds' Jessica Hanson has grown into the complete player in her fourth season on the Point Grey campus. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)
Feature University Women's Basketball

UBC’s Jessica Hanson: On eve of playoff opener vs. Wesmen, coach Huband says of ‘Birds veteran “…she’ll always err on the side of leadership”

VANCOUVER — Be a scorer. Be a facilitator. Be a lock-down defender. 

Accepting the task of wearing those three hats on the basketball court at the same time starts you on the road to becoming a complete player.

Embracing those tasks, however, with the aplomb and surety with which UBC Thunderbirds’ guard Jessica Hanson has in this, her fourth U Sports’ campaign, ultimately defines one.

And that’s why on Saturday (2 p.m.), when the ‘Birds play host to the Winnipeg Wesmen in a winner-take-all, single-game Canada West post-season play-in clash at War Memorial Gymnasium, Hanson will be entrusted to put forward the same kind of multi-pronged, efficiency-laden effort that has come to define her place this season on a young-and-rising UBC team.

“You have to approach a game like this with a calm confidence and a collective sense of urgency,” says Hanson, one-third of the team’s terrific triumvirate which also includes post Keylyn Filewich and guard-forward Maddison Penn. “We understand that we are going to have to battle together to keep the season alive.”

Hanson, over this season above all others, has shown herself to be more qualified than ever to affect the team’s positive growth.

And nowhere is that more apparent than in the layer of efficiency she has added to her play-making resume.

In fact it’s the area of her game which has taken the boldest step forward yet.

If you let the numbers do the talking, it’s hard to ignore the way that Hanson, the 5-foot-9 guard, has made a dynamic breakthrough in her game this season.

While her assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.3-to-1 is both for tied fifth-best in the nation and first in Canada West (92 assist, 40 turnovers,), her sheer number of minutes played (637), the one variable which puts the sternest test on efficiency, is easily the highest, varying from 77 to 573 minutes more than anyone in her neighbourhood.

It’s essential to note that Hanson, over her three prior UBC seasons, had finished with more turnovers than assists, including 62 assists last season versus 67 turnovers.

“She’s gotten stronger and she now has a lot of different passes in her arsenal,” says UBC head coach Deb Huband of Hanson who is fourth in the nation at 4.6 assists per game. “Left hand. Right hand. Low. High. She has the full gamut from which she can access and her IQ and reading of the game is so good that it’s allowed her to deliver the ball with such timing.”

All of that in concert with her 11.3 points-per-game scoring average and her position as the team’s top perimetre defender makes her one of the conference’s most essential if not unsung players.

UBC’s Jessica Hanson (left) turns a corner earlier this season on Trinity Western’s Julia Marshall. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

With all of that said, Huband appreciates the way Hanson had maintained equilibrium as the vastness of each of her portfolios has grown.

“Part of that is playing at both of the guard spots, bringing her versatility to both but then at the same time, trying to balance the leadership piece,” says Huband. “It’s a bit of a balancing act but she is coming into her own. Of course she also scores, and she has improved her ability to defend to the point where she is our top perimetre player.”

As it pertains to the latter, Hanson doesn’t take a break on defence by guarding lesser foes.

“She exerts a lot of effort on that side of the ball,” adds Huband. “Some teams avoid having a go-to offensive player exerting that much energy but she invests a lot of time and takes a lot of pride in that side of the game.”

In fact if you re-visit what Huband told your faithful scribe during his days at The Province newspaper back in February of 2015, as Hanson was nearing the end of her high school career at Vancouver’s Little Flower Academy, you could say the coach had a pretty good read on the future of her prize recruit.

“She has the ability to play point guard and shooting guard, and the potential to be a strong defensive player with agility, athleticism and quickness,” Huband said months ahead of Hanson joining her program. “She can be a scorer, a playmaker, and bring a defensive presence.”

Yet when you ask Hanson herself about the abundant growth her game has shown this season, she stays true to her consummate team-self.

“I think it’s just growing as a team and getting to know each other more,” she says. “I’ve also grown my own basketball experience. I’ve gotten stronger, faster mentally and faster physically.

And part-and-parcel of that process is the leadership component, a mantle of responsibility which Hanson now wears with an added layer of confidence.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience for me,” she says. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve all gone from being young together to maturing, and it’s been cool to see each other excel.

“But I can remember even last season looking around (as a third-year player) thinking I am already one of the older players,” she continues. “This year, it’s a more familiar role for me, and I have tried to be a mentor to younger players like Hailey (Counsell) and Kate (Johnson).”

Jessica Hanson has stepped up every part of her game in this, her fourth season with the UBC Thunderbirds. (Photo by Richard Lam property of UBC athletics 2019. All Rights Reserved)

Of course it’s pretty hard not to relate Hanson’s development in the game against that of the basketball family in which she has been raised.

Dad Kevin, of course, is the head coach of the men’s basketball team at UBC. A North Delta native and a former UBC point guard, he still holds the Thunderbirds’ single-game assist record of 16 set in a road game at Calgary near the end of the 1986-87 season.

Mom Theresa, the athletic director at Simon Fraser, is a former collegiate guard herself dating back to her days in Idaho at Lewis-Clark State, and she holds one of Warriors’ top all-time single-game scoring performances.

As the former Theresa Hanlon, the Trail native scored 36 points in a game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs back in 1985-86.

Jessica Hanson set her career collegiate high for assists when she collected 10 in a 95-72 win over Mt. Royal back on Dec. 1 of this season.

Her single-game points high came in the regular-season game of 2017-18 when she shot 60 per cent (6-of-10) from distance and collected 28 points in a 77-73 loss to Victoria.

“I always joke with my dad that I’m trying to catch his record,” Hanson says of dishing 16 helpers in a game.

Adds mom Theresa of her daughter: “She’s got me on the defensive part, no question.”

Yet in the big picture, Jessica Hanson has become her own player by sporting the best parts of both her mom’s and dad’s respective games. Together, they have come to equal the rare skill of being able to provide her team with what it needs the most at any given moment.

“I’d say she is 65 per cent point guard,” Huband says of Hanson. “When we need a specific thing at a specific time, she is the experienced leader on the floor who steps up. That is the natural role of the point guard. But the thing I like best is that she will always err on the side of leadership.”

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