Photo above by NBAE/Getty Images

 

One is a legend, the other is a legend in the making, however Colorado State University grads Becky Hammon and Kelsey Martinez want people to see them not for their gender but for their performance as coaches.

But there is no denying their place in the history of professional sports—each kicking down gender barriers in the NBA and NFL with grace, talent and remarkable effectiveness. 

Their successes on the field and on the court are not lost on those who knew them as Rams. In fact, breaking into coaching at the pro sports level doesn’t come as a surprise but almost expected by two athletes who shared a common dedication to sports and a unique knack for embracing challenges and rising to the top.

CSU Legend Shines in the NBA

Anyone who knows anything about CSU athletics or the WNBA knows about Becky Hammon. 

Currently an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, Hammon is widely believed to become the first NBA head coach. The speculation doesn’t come just from fans, but from other coaches and athletes alike.

Gary Ozzello, who was CSU’s sports information director at the time, remembers Hammon the day she walked on campus as a freshman in 1995. 

At 5-foot-6, Hammon didn’t seem like the typical standout basketball player, he said. But with undeniable talent and an unstoppable competitiveness, Hammon quickly became a CSU star on the court.

 

Left: The Spurs made Becky Hammon the team’s Summer League head coach in 2015. Photo courtesy of Colorado State University. Right: Becky Hammon was hired to be assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, just the second female assistant coach in NBA history. Photo by NBAE/Getty Images.

 

Ozzello, who currently works as CSU’s director of Community Outreach and Engagement, said Hammon single-handedly put CSU women’s basketball on the map. 

She made All-American three times and Colorado Sportswoman of the year. She led her team to a 33-3 record in her senior year, helping them advance to the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen. 

“She filled up the stadium,” Ozzello recalls. “People came from all over the state and beyond just to see her play. You would see the young girls around Fort Collins wearing Becky Hammon T-shirts and the young boys too. She was that good.”

After college, Hammon went to play professionally in the WNBA as well as in Russia and even became a naturalized Russian citizen. 

In 2014, she was hired by the Spurs as an assistant coach, becoming the second female assistant coach in NBA history and the first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports in North America. 

Hammon is no token coach. The Spurs made her the team’s Summer League head coach in 2015—another ceiling busted for women. 

Ozzello noted that Hammon is one of the few assistant coaches that get “on the bench” status during Spurs games.

“She continues to break down barriers and provides opportunities for others to follow in her wake,” he said. “She pursues excellence in every way and always has. Becky changes cultures. She doesn’t say ‘why,’ she says, ‘why not?’ No one works harder than Becky.” 

Put Me in Coach

At just 26, not only is Kelsey Martinez one of the youngest assistant coaches in the NFL, she is also the first female assistant coach in the Oakland Raiders’ franchise history. 

But this CSU grad doesn’t see her new job as some historical sports marker but rather a result of her love of sports, a killer work ethic and a humble dedication to help others reach their potential.

Born and raised in Pueblo, Martinez was a standout athlete and went on to play softball at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. After a year, she wanted to move closer to home and set her sights on CSU.

She originally transferred to play softball for CSU but that didn’t happen. Instead, the lifelong athlete and fitness guru focused on getting her degree in Health and Exercise Science. 

Wendy DeYoung, director of health promotion at CSU and Martinez’s instructor for her senior practicum, recalls Martinez as a student of immense passion and work ethic. 

“She had an unstoppable desire to help people,” DeYoung said. “She also had a huge passion for sports, especially football.”

 

Kelsey Martinez, at 26, is one of the youngest assistant coaches in the NFL, as well as the first female assistant coach in the Oakland Raiders’ franchise history. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders.

 

“Kelsey wasn’t one to call attention to herself,” she said. “She has a sense of fortitude and confidence in her knowledge—a very genuine personality. She is driven to use her core scientific knowledge and to help others become the best they can be. It’s that unique combination that has brought her success.”

Martinez said she credits CSU for providing her with opportunities, including going to Florida to intern as a strength and conditioning coach for the Tom Shaw Performances at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

“CSU really opened doors for me,” Martinez said in a phone interview with NOCO Style. “I worked hard to take advantage of every opportunity given to me.”

Both Martinez and DeYoung said applying for the Shaw internship in such a male-dominated field was daunting but knew working with this organization would be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a young coach.

“The worst thing was they could say no,” Martinez recalled. “When I was able to get that opportunity to go to Orlando, I made the most of it.”

And that she did. She continued to work for Coach Shaw in Orlando for the next four years, where she not only trained NFL players but professional athletes in Major League Baseball and other sports. As her skills and reputation grew among elite athletes, Martinez began to imagine working for the NFL.

During this time, she met the Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. She must have made a huge impression on him, as he offered her the assistant coaching position for strength and conditioning—the first female coach ever hired by the Raiders.

“It was not a great surprise that the Raiders hired her,” DeYoung said. “She puts 100 percent into everything she does, and they are lucky to have her.”

For Martinez’s part, she is grateful to be “a part of the success” of the Raiders and the players she works with. 

“I come out every day and try to do the best job I can,” she said. “My biggest reward is having a part in this organization and putting in that time.” 

While she understands and appreciates that breaking this barrier makes her a natural role model for young girl and boy athletes alike, she said the most important lesson she can impart to others is a strong work ethic and perseverance. 

“You are the only one who can stop you,” she said. “You can’t be afraid to go for what you want. It takes hard work and you might have to make sacrifices. But if you want something bad enough, you just have to go do it.” 

Freelance writer Shelley Gonzales is an alumna of Colorado State University. To comment on this article, send an email to letters@nocostyle.com.