GRAND RAPIDS — When Heaven Hamling returned home to Grand Rapids for Christmas in 2018, she found out just how important family and friends meant to her.
After a sterling basketball career at Grand Rapids High School where she averaged 19.5 points per game throughout her career and led the Thunderhawks to three consecutive appearances in the state tournament, she capped off her high school career by being named a finalist for the Minnesota Miss Basketball Award her senior year.
Hamling then chose Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, to play Division 1 basketball. She started off strong and averaged 5.4 points and 16.3 minutes per game in her freshman season in 2018-19. Most impressive was the fact that she was sixth in the conference in 3-point field goal percentage as she nailed 60 of her 158 attempts for a success rate of 38 percent.
But the Christmas trip back to Grand Rapids had her yearning to get closer to family and friends so she decided to transfer to North Dakota State University (NDSU) in Fargo, N.D., where she will be able to continue her career as a Division I player.
“We got five days off for Christmas and traveling home took one day of my vacation,” Hamling said. “Then I had to go back on Christmas Day so that took another day so my vacation was cut to three days. It was tough not seeing my family. I have always had a great connection with the Grand Rapids community and this transfer will allow them to watch me play as well. Plus, to only have my parents at two games the whole year was mentally tough on me.”
Another reason the move to NDSU will benefit her is that the school has a course of study she needs for her future plans. She went to Stephen F. Austin with the idea of being put in a construction management program, but instead she was placed in a interior design major which she said didn’t suit her well.
“I got out of the interior design program and I was a business major which really wasn’t what I wanted,” Hamling explained. “I want to flip houses so I figured I needed information for that and NDSU had that to offer.”
Meanwhile, NDSU named a new head coach on April 29 in Jory Collins, and Hamling said he was very receptive to accepting her as a player in the program. She said she gave her AAU coach from the Minnesota Stars – Mark Smith – a list of teams she was interested in playing for with NDSU being on top of the list. She said once Collins was hired at NDSU, Smith contacted Collins who said he was interested in having Hamling in the program.
“We chatted the next day after (Collins) got hired so it was kind of a quick thing. He was interested right away after he Googled me,” Hamling said.
Hamling will redshirt a year in 2019-20, and then will begin her sophomore season in 2020-21.
“It is really awesome to be here at NDSU, especially with the football program being as good as it is,” said Hamling. “It is a good community to be in, the facilities are fantastic, and it is quick, new energy coming into the women’s basketball program and you can’t beat it.”
Kris Hamling, head coach of the Grand Rapids High School girls basketball team, said it is great that her daughter will be playing closer to family and friends.
“We are thrilled to have her closer to her hometown and to be able to play college ball,” said coach Hamling. “We are just so happy to have her back. All in all, I think it was a great decision for her.
“They have a new coach at NDSU and he did lots of homework on Heaven and watched some film on her. He talked with her that evening and offered her a spot. It is exciting to be involved in a turnaround of a program and we are really looking forward to what coach Collins will bring to the NDSU women’s basketball program.”
Coach Hamling said Texas was a great fit for Heaven, saying that she loved the team and the coaching staff. She added that her daughter’s freshman season was everything that could be hoped for with good playing time and contribution to the team.
Hamling said the coaching staff wants to use her as a combo guard which will put her in a position to score.
“I feel more confident now knowing that I have one year under my belt and I kind of know what college basketball is all about and what it takes to be competitive each and every day,” Hamling explained. “Last year I was a shooter kind of testing out the water and now I am going to come in and try to do everything, get teammates open, score, get stops on the defensive end, and just do everything I can.”
Hamling said her freshman season went well in acclimating herself to Division I basketball.
“I thought I had a great freshman season and I am happy with my 3-point shooting,” Hamling said. “I played a lot and it was really fun.”
Hamling said she was in the mix to receive minutes from the start for Stephen F. Austin. However, she said the older players were stronger than she was and that is something she is working to change. She said she found out she belonged in Division I right off the bat.
“We played Miami, the 24th ranked team (in the country) in our first game and I played 21 minutes and I scored 15 points,” Hamling explained. “I feel I stepped in right away and kind of did my thing. But definitely strength and conditioning-wise, coming in right away you could definitely tell that the freshmen just were not as developed as the upperclassmen.
“You found that you need to put on a lot more muscle and just develop as a player.”
Hamling said she is on a program where she is in the weight room four days a week and conditions with the team or by herself. She said practices during this part of the year are restricted to four hours a week.
“We will practice three times a week and stay together as a team,” said Hamling. “But it is mostly being in the weight room and conditioning, which is a big part for the off-season right now.”
Hamling was asked what advice she would give to young athletes in the Grand Rapids area and she said, “Don’t take anything for granted; once you are done playing sports you will never get that back. So just put in 110 percent every time, just give everything you have because it is not always going to be there for you.”