Sara Hamson, a Latter-day Saint playing professionally for Romania’s CSM Alexandria, dribbles around an opponent during recent league play. (Courtesy of Sara Hamson)
Have Ball – Will Travel. Latter-day Saint pro basketball star Sara Hamson plying her trade far from home in Romania
The former BYU multi-sport athlete finds spiritual support via frequent FaceTime chats with family, friends in Utah
By Jason Swensen
24 Jan 2023
This time last year, Sara Hamson was playing her final year of college ball just minutes away from her Utah County home — and on a Brigham Young University basketball squad filled with fellow Latter-day Saints.
Much has changed for the 6-foot-7-inch center.
Hamson is still playing hoops — collecting buckets, swatting away opposing shots and starting fast breaks with a crisp outlet pass to her teammates. But now her “home team” — CSM Alexandria — is in southern Romania, 6,000 miles away from her family in Lindon, Utah.
She is also the only Church member on her team. In fact, most of her teammates had never met a Latter-day Saint prior to this season’s arrival of their American post player. “I definitely stand out on this team,” she told Church Ball Magazine. “It’s been a very different experience than what I had expected, in many different ways.”
While Hamson’s journey from Provo to eastern Europe (which included a detour last year to play basketball in Australia) may be new for her personally, playing ball overseas is a Hamson tradition. Her mother, former BYU All-American Tresa Spaulding Hamson, played in Europe before starting a family. And Sara’s older sister, Jennifer Hamson, is a former multi-sport athlete at BYU who played professional volleyball and basketball in Europe.
In fact, Sara hired her older sister’s agent when she decided to continue her playing career post-BYU. “And one of our big goals for this first full season was to be on a team where I had an important role and where I could shine — so [Romania] has been a good fit for me in that way,” she said.
Basketball is a universal “language” — so the basics of college play in the United States or professional play in Europe are essentially the same. “But the style of play here is more ‘star’-focused,” said Hamson. “In college ball, things were more team- and system-focused. But on my current team, a lot of the plays are set up for one-on-one situations.
“There’s a lot of pressure to make something happen.”
No surprise, playing in a foreign country presents language and cultural challenges. Besides Hamson, CSM Alexandria rosters one American and a couple of Bulgarians. The remaining players are Romanian.
Sara Hamsom (#22) is the starting center on Romania’s CSM Alexandria professional basketball squad. The team roster includes Americans, Bulgarians and Romanians. (Photo courtesy of Sara Hamson)
“I’m lucky because most of the girls speak pretty good English,” said Hamson, who is picking up a bit of Romanian. “But other than my teammates, almost no one that I have run into here speaks English. So that can be kind of interesting when I want to, say, order a pretzel or ask for other basics.”
Hamson is still in her early 20s, but she is one of the older players on the squad that includes several teenagers.
A Latter-day Saint congregation of one
Hamson hoped to find a ward or branch when she arrived in Alexandria. “But the nearest [Church unit] was like four hours away,” she said.
So she finds spiritual and Sabbath-day support FaceTiming with her family. She is grateful for technology allowing her to connect frequently with loved ones and fellow Latter-day Saints.
“I really look forward to Sundays — just to be able to feel renewed and feel that family connection,” she said. “The Church places a wonderful emphasis on family relationships, so it’s nice to be with my family on Sundays.”
Hamson added her Latter-day Saint beliefs are a team curiosity. “But it has been really fun and interesting to discuss my beliefs with people who know nothing about our Church.”
Most are fascinated to learn Hamson does not drink alcohol at social gatherings. But such differences have not prevented her from making friends with her teammates. “A lot can be accomplished in building connections if both sides are willing to be respectful and open to new ideas.” she said. “The girls have been super respectful of my boundaries and my principles. They haven't pressured me at all.
“They have all been really nice.”
Hamson notes she is not the only Latter-day Saint woman playing professional basketball. Fellow former BYU Cougars Amanda Wayment and Paisley Johnson Harding are competing in Australia and Germany, respectively.
Always looking forward to something positive
Hamson is grateful that she can speak to her older sister, Jennifer, about her own overseas playing experience. The two discuss challenges such as loneliness and feeling different.
Former BYU basketball player Sara Hamson, a Latter-day Saint, carries much of the scoring and rebounding load for CSM Alexandria of the Romanian National League. (Photo courtesy of Sara Hamson)
“Jennifer’s best advice for me has been to always find things to look forward to,” she said. “She was the one who suggested that I host team parties and plan team events to help build team relationships.”
The elder Hamson also encouraged her younger sister to organize excursions to get to know her host country and, again, have something to look forward to beyond the day-to-day grind of a professional athlete.
When the Romanian National League season ends in April, Hamson plans to return to Utah, enjoy the summer away from basketball and re-evaluate her athletic future. When her playing days are over, the bioinformatics graduate plans to work as a software engineer.
“So I'll probably spend a bunch of time this summer building up my portfolio and writing code to prepare for that.”