VU's Hannah Tuomi put work ethic to test

In this era of women's hoops when eighth-graders shoot collegiate recruiting tapes and high schoolers toil multiple summers with pedigree AAU clubs, the unlikely start of senior Hannah Tuomi's road to Vanderbilt is endearing. In a few months, that path will lead elsewhere, and her wish is overseas.

One summer of AAU basketball – that's all the spotlight Hannah needed to land at a program that has made 24 NCAA appearances. Equally adept at volleyball, the 3-sport high school athlete had other camps and road trips to make during her summers. After her older sister Jessica played a summer of AAU, Hannah followed in her footsteps the summer before graduation.

She took to the road with Randy Pope's roster of Colorado's top players. Memphis was where coaches first laid eyes on her talent and her will. Scouts were checking out Melissa Jones, an AAU teammate and Thornton high school rival of Hannah's. Melissa, who passed on an opportunity to play for the Commodores, instead chose Baylor.

"Things didn't work out with Melissa so they were like, ‘Well, what about you? What are you thinking? Would you like to come here and visit?' I was actually shocked. I was not recruited by any other big program. I was actually shocked. I was getting on the plane and wasn't sure if I should go and my mom was like, ‘Hannah, you have to go.' I was scared and it was the biggest offer I'd ever gotten. We went and I had a really good time," and the rest is history.

The 6-1 undersized post who bore the cuts, scrapes and bruises of constant battle beneath the boards became known as the workhorse of the program. A Scandinavian family tree, with roots dug deep in the frozen soil of Minnesota, helped shape the Tuomi work ethic. Nothing, her mother Jackie said, was ever easy for their family. When mother and daughter made the initial visit to Vanderbilt, Head Coach Melanie Balcomb was told that Hannah didn't expect anything to be handed to her—she would earn it all on her own. "She has, and I never doubted her for a second,. We're so very proud of her," Jackie said.

Hannah sticks like glue to the hardwoods while taking hits and shoves by much larger players. It's the kind of contact and physical play that drew her to choose hoops over volleyball. Her ability to play with pain is remarkable. Near the end of the 2009 season, she played weeks with a fractured foot before saying something. The call for help resulted in a boot, crutches and the bench during Vandy's SEC Tournament championship and Sweet 16 run before getting ousted by Maryland 74-78.

More recently, it was emotional pain she hid as her father David was hospitalized with complications from a ruptured appendix – the very day she sank a career high 29 points and made 11 of 15 free throw attempts. It was something she had not even told her teammates. David was ill at Hannah's senior homecoming game two days before in Denver, but the large man who played college football in Minnesota and works in construction ignored the pain too long. Like father, like daughter, the Tuomi clan is tough.

As stalwart as Hannah is, she is tender, too, and enjoys laughing and bringing a smile to others. "Crazy Hannah," her teammates say good-naturedly. She turns philosophical as her days at Vanderbilt draw to an end and her time in a ‘Dore uniform is over. This senior season was no romp.

"This wasn't an ideal season. Even with all the setbacks or losses or injuries or things that negated the way to our goal, they were opportunities to see how strong we were. It came down to recovery and who could overcome adversity regardless of the setbacks. Life can never be the way you just want it. I try to look outside the box. Life is so much bigger than the game of basketball. This is a small section and what I have learned will benefit me the rest of my life."

Of the on-court accomplishments, there have been many. Hannah became Vandy's 32nd player to reach 1,000 points, finishing with 1,192. She was named the Vanderbilt Thanksgiving Tournament MVP and SEC Co-Player of the week on December 13. She recorded four double-doubles (five last season) and started all 31 games as a senior and 34 games as a junior. For only the fourth time ever at Vanderbilt on 10 or more attempts, she was 100 percent from the field with 10 attempts against Florida last season.

Set to graduate with a double major in art history and English, Hannah would love to play in Europe where she could use her major to enjoy local museums and literature. Naming a potential location, though, is difficult.

"I'll just go with the flow of life and see where it takes me. I'm going home first and have some time with family and friends that I and then I'll try to go overseas somewhere."

What she has drawn from her days on campus are a deep appreciation for the diversity of relationships and cultures she has experienced. The culture of Colorado is much different than that of the South, and having teammates from the west to east coast has helped her grow as well.

"We're all from different backgrounds and have different ideologies and complete cultural differences. One thing I take from these four years is what I've gained from certain people, learning about people's beliefs and how all that influenced me and changed me. When I came here as a freshman I was a completely different person than I am now. I think college is a place where you grow and find yourself and become more of an individual. It's just the way the world is. I'm glad I stepped out of my box and learned so much here."

With a few months before graduation, Hannah isn't keen on reminiscing quite yet. It's just too early, and Vandy's season is barely over, but what will she miss?

"I haven't let my mind go there. I've done this for four years and you think there's always next season." But the love of competition and the way it's played out in the SEC is what she'll miss most.

"There's no other competition like this in the world. Having a college lifestyle and playing ball, you only get four years to do that."

With Hannah's dream to play professionally overseas, competition will continue, but it will look different. She will find another culture to explore, and use what she's learned to grow even more. Top Stories