Long before Becky Hammon became a WNBA star and made history as the first female to be hired as a full-time NBA assistant coach, Christina Camacho played basketball with her older brothers and their friends in the family driveway.
Camacho, who has built a powerhouse girls basketball program at Wagner High School since it opened in 2005, was only 10 when she fell in love with the sport that became her life’s passion.
Highly competitive even then, Camacho never backed down against the bigger, stronger competition she faced in those neighborhood pickup games.
In her mind, there was no glass ceiling for females in the basketball world.
“I don’t think I thought like that,” Camacho said Wednesday night. “If I was playing with boys in our driveway or our neighborhood, I knew I could play with them. I didn’t think about whether it was the right thing to do. I always hung out with the neighborhood kids, and played touch football in the street or played basketball.
“I didn’t think about women can’t do this. Really, it wasn’t talked about. I guess my mom and dad weren’t like that. I guess I was never told, ‘Well, you can’t do this.’ My dad loved seeing his kids in sports because he was such a sports fanatic.”
Now 50, Camacho has seen women’s basketball grow by leaps and bounds since the carefree days of her youth. Like so many across the country, she marveled at another milestone last week when the Spurs hired Hammon as an assistant coach.
A six-time WNBA All-Star guard, Hammon is retiring at the end of the current season. She has played the last eight seasons with the San Antonio Stars, formerly the Silver Stars, after spending her first eight in the league with the New York Liberty.
Camacho is a Stars fan and met Hammon, 37, about two years ago when Hammon had a girls basketball camp at the Wagner gym.
“We’re not the best of friends, but I go to Stars games whenever I can,” Camacho said. “I’m grateful to the Spurs and proud of them that they’re giving Becky this opportunity. She was definitely hired for her basketball IQ. Coach (Gregg) Popovich hired because she was the best person for the job. It just happens to be Becky Hammon. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a male or a female.
“One thing I brought up is that you have all these men coaching women’s sports, including women’s sports, so why can’t you have women coaching men? Why is it that people think it’s normal that men coach men. Why can’t women coach men? I think it could easily happen.”
Scheduled to appear on KENS 5’s “Great Day San Antonio” show with three of her Wagner players Thursday morning, Camacho spoke with Hammon on Wednesday to help her gain some insight on Hammon’s historic hiring.
“I sent her a text, saying ‘I want to talk with you briefly. I know you’re very, very busy.’ She’s like, ‘Yea, not a problem.'” Camacho said. “So she called me after practice today. I was very appreciative to get her insight. I’m sure she is talking to so many different people. She took 10 minutes out of her day to call a high school coach just to talk. That describes the type of person she is.
“She carries herself well. She’s a very good role model. She’s not going crazy, or doing crazy stuff on the court or off the court. She’s truly somebody that the little kids can emulate.”
Camacho, who has coached for 27 years, said Hammon’s hiring sends a clear message to young girls everywhere.
“I think it opens up opportunities,” Camacho said. “Sometimes you have girls that maybe don’t have that initiative. Nobody else has done it, do I want to be the one? I guess it depends on the girl’s personality or character. I’ve seen the strong-willed girls who want to go against what is considered normal.
“When it comes to women coaching men, or men coaching women or women coaching women, whatever, I think women think they have to coach women because they want to be good role models. But I think a woman can be a good role model for a boy. Regardless of your gender, you want to teach kids to do the right thing. To respect everybody regardless of color, race or gender. In my eyes, it doesn’t have to be women coaching women. You can coach boys and still be a good role model.”
Camacho has a 533-201 career record and is 303-54 at Wagner, which has advanced to the state tournament three times in eight varsity seasons. The Thunderbirds have won six district championships, and have gone undefeated in district play five times.
A Clark High School graduate, Camacho made UTSA’s first team in 1981-82 as a walk-on. She is the only daughter of former Lanier basketball standout Jesse Camacho, who played for legendary coach Nemo Herrera and was a captain of the 1940-41 Voks team.
Jesse Camacho, who turned 91 last week, is his daughter’s biggest fan. Coach Camacho’s mother, Gloria, died in 1988.
“My father never pushed us into sports, but both of my parents were always very supportive of anything my brothers and I did,” Camacho said.