UCO’s Frontcourt Moves Forward
Senior Jake Hammond, No. 12, shoots a hook shot against a Fort Hays State defender during a game on Feb. 10. (Lauren Bieri/UCO Photo Services)
University of Central Oklahoma forwards Corbin Byford and Jake Hammond are similar in a lot of ways. Both rank top 10 in career blocks at UCO. Both are Division 1 transfers. Both have been a key part of UCO’s success over the past two years. Both had similar paths to Edmond.
For Byford, after averaging 23.3 points and 11.0 rebounds a game as a senior at Velma-Alma High School, while earning All-State and Class A Player of the Year honors, he set his sights on Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. After redshirting his first year, Byford appeared in 18 games, but wasn’t making the impact he wanted and decided to transfer.
“I was playing out of position coming out of high school,” Byford said. “I wasn’t really a three, I wasn’t really a four at the Division 1 level. I decided that I wanted to go somewhere where I could be a big time impact player on a good team.”
Byford made a list of the things he wanted at his new school. The school had to be Division II so he wouldn’t have to sit out another year and he wanted to be in the Oklahoma City area where he was closer to home. Byford narrowed his choices to two.
“It was between UCO and Southern Nazarene,” Byford said. “I fell in love with UCO and the tradition that they have and their great education program.”
After battling injuries his first two years on campus, Byford returned to the court averaging 12.2 points per game along with 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game as a junior. This season he averaged 12.1 points per game and 6.8 rebounds.
“I wanted to be a college basketball player,” Byford said. “I wanted to be a successful one.”
Just like Byford, Hammond started his career at another school. After a strong senior season at Comanche High School, where he averaged 26.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 5.7 blocks and 3.1 steals earning All-State and Duncan Banner Area Player of the Year honors, Hammond set his sights on the University of Nebraska. After lettering for two years, he decided to transfer.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting the most out of myself,” Hammond said. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Hammond said choosing UCO as his next school was an easy decision.
“Before I left, I knew UCO was a nice school,” Hammond said. “I got to talk to (head coach Tom) Hankins and I liked his style a lot. My teammates, from the first time I met them, they seemed like a really good group of guys that I could build a bond with. Turns out I was right.”
Hammond made an immediate impact for the Bronchos, averaging 10.7 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. This season Hammond averaged 8.5 points per game along with 5.8 rebounds and two blocks, earning him a spot on the MIAA All-Defense team.
“I was kind of surprised,” Hammond said. “Our manager brought it to my attention three weeks before the season was over that I was tied for first in the conference in blocks. I had no idea I was that close, so towards the end I thought I had a chance, but once they told me I was happy.”
Hammond plans to continue his basketball career overseas before returning home to put his criminal justice degree to use by being a highway patrolman. Despite receiving offers to play overseas as well, Byford plans to pursue a career in coaching.
“I gave pretty much all of my body I can give,” Byford said. “I have no regrets.”
Both appreciate what each has done for the other.
“Since I’ve been here he’s someone I’ve tried to emulate,” Hammond said about Byford. “He’s definitely helped me out on and off the court. He’s a great guy.”
Although Byford and Hammond are teammates, they benefitted from competing against each other in practice.
“We go up against each other every day in practice and it’s been great for me,” Byford said. “He’s an all-MIAA defender so I had to find different ways to score. I attribute a lot of my success to him.”
Byford and Hammond may be taking different paths in their future careers, but both have left their mark on the UCO basketball program.