Corey Hammell, the undersized UAA center who is one of the top rebounders in Division II basketball, keeps a quote from NBA great Charles Barkley on his phone. It's simple yet humorous:
"I always laugh when people ask me about rebounding techniques," it reads. "I've got a technique. It's called just go get the damn ball."
Like Barkley, Hammell is a shorter player who has a knack for getting the damn ball. The 6-foot-6 junior transfer leads the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in rebounding with 10.1 per game — 2.6 rebounds per game more than the next highest player. At the national level, Hammell ranks No. 1 in Division II in offensive rebounding at 4.36 per game.
"Guys that I obviously look at from an NBA standpoint are guys like Charles Barkley," Hammell said. "Charles Barkley was a great rebounder for his size. He's listed at as 6-6, but he's realistically probably 6-4. He had a knack for the ball."
Hammell's rebounding and scoring — he's tied for third on the team in scoring with 12.4 points per game — are big reasons why the UAA men's basketball team is second in the GNAC with a 13-4 conference record and 20-8 overall with three games to go in the regular season.
Partly because of his height, Hammell was overlooked by Division I teams when he played at Santa Rosa Junior College in his hometown.
UAA coaches had followed him since his senior year of high school at Cardinal Newman in Santa Rosa. And though he didn't join the Seawolves right away, the coaching staff convinced him to make the trek to Anchorage after junior college.
"We thought at his size, he might get overlooked by bigger schools a little bit," UAA coach Rusty Osborne said. "If he's 6-8, he's probably not playing here. But at 6-6, we thought he had some of the abilities of 6-7, 6-8 (players)."
Hammell isn't tall, he doesn't have crazy hops, but he has a desire to get the basketball. What he lacks in height, he makes up with grit and determination.
There are two 7-footers in the GNAC — Gilles Dierickx of Seattle Pacific and Saint Martin's Fred Jorg. Despite being six inches shorter, Hammell was often assigned to guard the two big men in games earlier this season, and he found some success.
In a January game against Saint Martin's, Hammell tallied 16 points and six rebounds. Two days later, he grabbed eight rebounds against Seattle Pacific.
"From a defensive standpoint they make me work, that's for sure," Hammell said of guarding Dierickx and Jorg. "I have to try to push them out as far as I can without fouling them, and I just try to stay between them and the basket. I know I'm not going to be blocking their shots."
Anybody who has watched Hammell play has seen his success on the court. But what has flown under the radar is that he has contended with nagging injuries this season. Hammell said he has loose cartilage and a bone bruise in his left knee.
"I remember the first time we played Seattle Pacific and Saint Martin's, I felt like I couldn't even jump, I was hurting so bad," he said. "So I just tried to use positioning and strength as far as just trying to get up (for rebounds), because I honestly felt like I couldn't get up, especially (in) that Seattle Pacific game."
Hammell isn't the only banged up Seawolf on the roster. Point guard Diante Mitchell (foot) and center Sjur Berg (arm) are out for the season with injuries and guard Spencer Svejcar recently missed two and a half games with back spasms and illness.
Berg's injury, which happened early in the season, moved Hammell from his usual power forward spot to center. So Hammell's success has come while playing out of position much of the time and while battling injuries.
"For him to battle through those injuries playing the number of minutes he is has been very important to us," Osborne said. "He adds a great dimension to our lineup, so we're glad he's been able to persevere."
Adversity is nothing new for Hammell. In high school and his first year of junior college, he led his teams to state titles. Then, everything fell apart during his sophomore season at Santa Rosa.
"Right as we were about to begin the year a guy rear-ended me going anywhere from 45 to 65 (mph) and gave me a really bad concussion and some whiplash," Hammell said. "I ended up missing the first six games of the year."
After recovering from the concussion, Hammell returned to the lineup but his team was a fragment of the one that won the California Community College Athletic Association state title the previous year. The 2014-15 team finished 14-14, and Hammell said most players were focused on their own stats rather than playing as part of a system. Team chemistry was nonexistent.
"I think there was a certain (lack of) leadership," Hammell said. "Looking back on it now, I feel like I should have been more vocal in my leadership."
This season, the Seawolves have faced similar challenges — injuries and lots of new faces. There are six transfers, including Hammell, who have played significant minutes.
Yet UAA has managed to mesh. Players settled into their roles as the season progressed, and now the Seawolves are in position to gain a first-round bye in the GNAC tournament and possibly claim a spot in the NCAA Division II tournament.
As the postseason looms, the Seawolves continue to rely on Hammell's toughness, bum knee or not.
"That's been the tenor of our team the whole year — we've had overcome a lot of obstacles," Osborne said. "We're hoping that even though we've got the injuries at the end, that we can still finish up these last two weeks strong, and Corey is going to be a big part of that whether he's playing at the four or the five spot."