The time between games is often excruciating for Iowa senior guard-forward Angela Hamblin. It's during those spare hours that Hamblin's many emotional burdens—a seriously ill father, the pressure to become the first in her family to earn a college degree, concern for her younger siblings back home in a rough section of Gary, Ind.—stage a full-court press on her overwrought psyche. "I'm always worried about everything in my life because I want everything to be right," says Hamblin, one of five starters back from the team that won the Big Ten tournament last season. "I usually keep things to myself, but sometimes I get so nervous I start crying. I can't sleep sometimes. But once it's time to hit the court, I'm O.K." Indeed, the six-foot Hamblin averaged 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds to lead the 18-12 Hawkeyes in those departments last season.
Added to Hamblin's list of anxieties this year are Iowa's brutal nonconference schedule—including games against Connecticut, Louisiana Tech and Vanderbilt—and Hawkeyes fans' high expectations for her and the rest of the highly touted recruiting class that was dubbed the Sensational Seven when it arrived in Iowa City in 1994. Mostly because of injuries, the group has been a disappointment: In the group's three seasons at Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't reached the Final Four, and last year they fell to Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
But Hamblin's primary concern is her father, Otha, who has kidney disease and requires three dialysis treatments a week. "When we speak on the phone, I can tell that he's hurting," Hamblin says. "He'll say, 'I'm fine', but I can tell he's not."
"Angela has struggled sometimes because she worries about her family," says Angie Lee, Iowa's third-year coach. Lee deserved a good cry herself early last season. Forward Tiffany Gooden, probably the most highly regarded of the Sensational Seven, was sidelined again because of her left knee, the same one in which she suffered a torn ACL in high school. Forward Malikah Willis also went down with a knee injury. Hamblin was hampered by a series of nagging ailments as well, including two concussions and a strained right hamstring. All that helped account for a disappointing 9-9 start. The Hawkeyes finally jelled as 6'4" center Tangela Smith came on down the stretch; after averaging 11.6 points during the regular season, she exploded for 17.3 per game in the Big Ten tournament.
Six of the Seven are back, and most of them are now healthy and ready for this last go-round. (Timicha Kirby transferred after her freshman season, and Gooden's knee was still bothering her in the preseason.) "We should be more consistent," Hamblin says, before adding, predictably, "but I can't help being a little nervous about it."