‘One Time’: Confidence and swagger helped shape Hansen’s journey to Missouri women’s basketball

Hansen grew up with a basketball in her hands, and as she developed her skill and confidence through New York City’s basketball scene, she knows that finding a place in basketball is where she wants to be.

Through much of the past decade, two words instilled fear in the women’s AAU basketball scene throughout New York City.

“One time.”

Her coach Thomas Davis often belted the phrase at his talented guard, which gave a young Lauren Hansen the green light to pull up from deep, and opponents knew it too.

“She’s about to shoot it!” parents and opponents often cried out in panic.

It never mattered. Hansen always let the ball fly, and more often than not, those shots ripped right through the net.

“Hearing that just brings me back to having confidence to shoot [the ball] and play with anybody,” Hansen, now a sophomore at Missouri, said. “It didn’t matter who was guarding me or who was in the stands.”

Regardless of whether she was a few steps behind the three-point line or even near halfcourt, Hansen’s instincts usually took over as she sized up her defender and released the ball.

“She would just shoot it unconsciously and not even have to think about it,” Davis said. “To this day, I think she has that phrase so embedded in her head that if I went to a Missouri game and shouted out ‘One time’ in the stands, she would probably shoot it.”

The ability and confidence to shoot from anywhere on the court, as well as take opponents on off the dribble, allows Hansen to play basketball at the highest level in college. However, to those who have coached her, it’s her mind and drive to stay in basketball that will give her a chance to make it to the WNBA and, eventually, become a coach.

One day in 2011, a few players Davis worked with at Our Savior New American School on Long Island, New York, called their trainer to convince him to watch the workout of a local sixth-grade girl from nearby Setauket.

Though younger than many of the other girls Davis has coached, Hansen’s advanced skill-set immediately stood out. The sixth grader already had ball-handling skills, shot-making prowess, and craftiness in her arsenal, and Davis knew that he wanted her to be a part of his AAU program: Exodus NYC.

The problem was that the program didn’t have a team for her age level. Despite that, Davis believed in Hansen’s natural talent and played her on the under-17 team.

In her early years at Exodus NYC, Hansen shared the court with talented players like future South Carolina and WNBA player Bianca Cuevas-Moore. She learned a lot from playing with Cuevas, and never missed a single one of her games in the summer.

“I sat there and watched everything that she did,” Hansen said. “The way that she carried herself, the way that she walked around the floor; I just wanted to carry that over to the way that I played.”

Samantha Prahalis-Holmes, another player from Long Island who went on to succeed in the WNBA, first heard of the young phenom before she coached her at Ward Melville High School.

Hansen’s ability to create shots for both herself and her teammates immediately impressed Prahalis, who watched her guard’s star grow each week. During her time at Ward Melville, Hansen set the school’s all-time scoring record, became a McDonald’s All-American and led the Patriots to back-to-back league titles.

“She was so much more advanced than anyone else on the court, or even on the island, at the time,” Prehalis said.

Hansen arrived at an AAU tournament in Atlanta in 2012, with a confidence that she had never had before. The guard recalled her first trip to the tournament in sixth grade, where she looked around the gym in awe of the talent that surrounded her. In the future, she told herself, she would be one of those players.

The next year, Exodus NYC returned with Hansen prepared to light up the competition. Upon arrival in Atlanta, the team found out that there were no other teams in its age bracket. Instead, Hansen and her team took on an Under-17 opponent, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“Look,” he told Hansen. “This is your chance right now to prove to everybody who you are.”

Hansen did just that. She scored around 20 points in that game on catch-and-shoot jumpers, step-back threes, hesitation moves to and-one’s and other crafty moves. As shots fell, her confidence grew and she began to bury shots from further and further away from the basket, which drove a packed gym into a frenzy.

“She woke up,” Davis said. “She put on a show and we ended up beating that team. Just the things that she did that game, you knew that she was different.”

Those “take-over-a-game” performances were common at Ward Melville, too.

In a game against nearby Elmont High School, Hansen went on multiple double-digit solo-scoring runs while being double and triple-teamed. On her senior night, she poured in thirty-first-half points.

That range that Hansen developed throughout her early basketball career in the Exodus program showed every night in the high school game. Even if she was just one or two feet inside halfcourt her shot looked routine.

“There was really no shot –– with a hand up, two hands up or deep –– where I said ‘Oh wait, don’t take that,’” Prahalis said. “I never felt that way with her. I’ve seen her shoot from two feet from halfcourt or three feet. I was a player and if you feel it, you feel it, so I had the utmost confidence in her.”

As a Long Islander, Hansen plays basketball with a sense of swagger that comes from playing pickup basketball in the streets of New York. Her herky-jerky dribble moves can bring a crowd to its feet in a hurry. In 2019, she received the opportunity to showcase that side of her game in a three-on-three basketball game at the Overtime Takeover, an organized event in Brooklyn.

Hansen’s evening started quietly, then she took over. After one missed shot, she grabbed a rebound and decided to push the ball up the court herself. Hansen strung together a few dribble moves, laid the ball into the hoop and got fouled, all while the fans in attendance erupted; the clip of that play blew up on social media, too.

“From there, I was like ‘Yeah, I’m comfortable being here,” Hansen said. “That made me feel like all the work I had put in had paid off.”

Hansen showcased herself to a larger audience that night, but the performance came as nothing new to Davis. In AAU tournaments, the way that she could see the game on the court stood out. Oftentimes, Hansen made a play and then told teammates why she made it in the next timeout.

“I got to take a risk on doing this,” Hansen would tell her teammates and coaches. “Even if the shot didn’t go in, I had to do that because if I [make this play], it will give us this [opportunity].”

Those moments were when Davis began to see the potential hallmarks of a great future coach in Hansen.

Davis has a saying that he tells his players multiple times each year: “Be unapologetically you.”

It’s a message that Hansen’s taken to heart since her sixth-grade season. As she developed as a player, Davis helped instill that sense of confidence in her –– not just on the court with her natural talent, but also off the court. He became a sounding board and someone for Hansen to have honest conversations with beyond basketball’s small intricacies and X’s and O’s.

“I just wanted to be that for somebody else, and that's what made me want to get into coaching,” Hansen said. “To be able to change people’s lives and be there for them.”

On the court, Hansen is a stereotypical student of the game. What she’d see and ask questions about wasn’t scoring tendencies, but rather about where to attack on the floor based on an opponent's foot position, or how to get a certain teammate open in a high-screen situation.

“It was nice because of her IQ,” Prahalis said. “I’m way older than her, and we could sit and have an advanced conversation.”

Hansen can break down both a player’s strengths and weaknesses easily, but what made Davis certain that she could do it at the next level is when she began to break down opposing coaches, too.

“They’re going to continue to go to that [look] no matter what,” Hansen told Davis as they watched another team’s game one day. “Whether they lose the game or not, that coach is coaching the game emotionally right now and is not thinking about what is best for the team.”

This season, Hansen is learning the game from an entirely new perspective under Missouri coach Robin Pingeton. Affectionately known as “Coach P,” Hansen said that playing under Pingeton helped her decide on transferring to Missouri from Auburn.

In just months, she’s learned more about the game, but also about the importance of forming strong bonds with players off the court.

“Everything that she is, is what I want to be like [as a coach],” Hansen said. “Just the way she is with relationships and how she cares for players off the court, but also the way she sees the game has taught me so much.”

Hansen’s next goal is to make it to the WNBA. After that, well, all Hansen knows is that she wants to stick in basketball. She’s had great mentors from Davis to Prahalis and now Pingeton.

Maybe someday she’ll be a coach at Exodus NYC, a program that she holds so dear that it remains in her Twitter bio. And maybe, in the distant future, she’ll be the one yelling “One time” to the next Lauren Hansen.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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