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A giant on and off the court

Bruce Hamming turned down a chance to play in the NBA so that he could pursue his dream of attending medical school

By Jack Copeland

Two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin was the best-known student-athlete on the dais, but it was pretty tough during the honors luncheon at the 1976 NCAA Convention to overlook Division III’s first-ever recipient of the Today’s Top Five award.

Standing just short of 7 feet tall, Augustana College’s Bruce Hamming gave up nothing to his fellow honorees – neither in stature or in success.

He was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Augustana squad that beat Knox and then slipped past Wartburg in the regional championship game and Hamline in the quarterfinals of the 1975 Division III Men’s Basketball Championship. The Vikings next lost to eventual champion LeMoyne-Owen, but won the third-place game as Hamming earned a spot on the all-tournament team.

He then was drafted by the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets, but opted instead to enroll in medical school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Although the decision was due in part to arthritic knees, it was a natural choice for the straight-A pre-medicine major who already had won an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

Bruce Hamming Augustana College, Class of 1975
It wasn’t the first time Hamming walked a different path from others of similar talent. He also had passed up multiple Division I scholarship offers to play at Augustana, but that too wasn’t so difficult a choice. He knew the college very well; his father was a well-regarded professor of geography at the school. Thus, he could attend Augustana tuition-free.

He told the Quad City Times in 2005 that he “didn’t want to feel like basketball owned me” saying that one school that recruited him suggested that he consider studying accounting instead of chemistry, because labs would interfere with afternoon practice.

When all was said and done, he found himself sharing the dais at the NCAA honors luncheon not only with Ohio State’s Griffin, but with Southern Cal football and baseball standout Marvin Cobb and future NFL Pro-Bowler John Sciarra of UCLA.

Sports Illustrated took notice early of the rising Vikings, who also advanced to the semifinals of the NAIA tournament in 1973 before joining the newly created Division III. Hamming attracted attention from the beginning, paired as a freshman on that first nationally successful team with 7-foot center John Laing.

Following med school and then an internship and residency at Northwestern, Hamming made another natural decision – he helped found Lake Shore Orthopedics and Sports Medicine and also has been a partner in the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute.