WHATEVER HAPPENED TO … TOM HAMMONDS

What he did: Say this for Tom Hammonds, the former Georgia Tech basketball great is not one for sitting on the beach with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

One of Tech coach Bobby Cremins’ six ACC rookies of the year during an eight-year span from 1983-90, Hammonds is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion. Imagine walking on to the mat and looking up at your opponent, a 6-foot-9 former NBA player who spent years banging on the boards with power forwards such as Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman.

It all began in Crestview, Fla., where Hammonds went to high school and was a McDonald’s All-American. Cremins locked in on Hammonds from the beginning of his sophomore season, and Hammonds had a very diversified final list of schools to choose from, going with the Yellows Jackets over DePaul, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Minnesota.

Hammonds arrived in Atlanta in 1985, only months after they had won their first ACC Tournament and were ranked No. 1 preseason in the nation, joining the likes of Mark Price, John Salley, Bruce Dalrymple and Duane Ferrell.

Hammonds started from the very beginning, winning conference rookie-of-the-year honors, averaging 12.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game. Tech finished 27-7, losing in the tournament conference finals by one point to Duke and the semifinals of the southeast regional to LSU that season.

It was after that season that Hammonds was one of two freshmen (the other was Sean Elliott from Arizona) that was named to the national team for the FIBA World Championships in Madrid, the USA picking up their first gold medal since 1954.

The next season with the loss of Price and Salley was a transition season for Tech, their record dropping to 16-13 but they made the NCAA tournament, where they lost again to LSU, but in the first round. Hammonds, though, continued to improve and quickly was becoming one of the more dominant inside players in the ACC, averaging 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds.

Then the 1987-88 season was a breakthrough year for Hammonds, going for 18.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game and the Jackets finished 22-10 and went to the second round of the NCAA tournament. During his senior season, Hammonds had his number (20) retired during the last home game, against North Carolina. He averaged 20.9 points and 8.1 rebounds a game and was named first-team All-ACC as the Jackets again made it to the NCAA tournament.

Hammonds then became the highest NBA draft pick for a Tech player at the time, going in the lottery in 1989, ninth to the Washington Bullets. Interesting, Georgia’s Alec Kessler went three picks later to the Rockets, the two spending time together at the draft in New York.

But Hammonds struggled in Washington under veteran coach Wes Unseld. He played three years there, starting only 34 games though did have memorable night Jan. 29, 1992 against Knicks, when he scored a career-high 31 points. He was traded to Charlotte for Rex Chapman later that season and bothered with injuries, was cut loose by the Hornets after 19 games.

He immediately was picked up by Denver and found a home with the Nuggets, a sixth man off the bench and he would stay there five seasons. He was on the ’94 Denver team that became the first NBA No. 8 seed in the playoffs to upset a top seed when the Nuggets knocked off Seattle three games to two and teammate Dikembe Mutombo blocked a record 31 shots in the series.

But in September 1997, he was waived by Denver and picked up by Minnesota, where he stayed for four seasons before retiring.

In all, Hammonds played in 687 NBA games, averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.

During his days at Tech, he became interested in cars and bought himself a hot rod and raced on the weekends, something that Cremins never knew about. Eventually, he would move into professional drag racing and own a NHRA team as well as a Chevy dealership in South Carolina.

When he was in Denver, Hammonds challenged teammate Robert Pack to a race at a nearby track and during one offseason flipped his car several times in crash footage that ended up on ESPN, but he wasn’t hurt. During the recession decided to get out of racing. He was inducted into the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

Where he lives: Hammonds, now 47, is not married, lives in Niceville, Fla., and has three boys, Tom IIII (30), Keelan (20) and Kaison (16).

What he does now: He owns Hammonds Enterprises, LLC, a construction company with offices in Florida and Washington, D.C. He loves to fish, but his main hobby right now is Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

On signing with Tech: "The thing about Tech was from my sophomore year on, there was always someone from the school at my games. I had a good senior year and we were the first high school team at my school to win a state championship and still the only champion. I had the chance to visit a lot of schools and really loved my visit to Tech and the city is very diverse. I think the most important thing was my relationship with Bobby Cremins. Also, I was a small-town guy, but I met an older gentleman on my visit to Tech and became great friends, and when I wasn't studying or playing basketball, I was with him in Marietta. We liked to fish together.''

On his love for fishing: "That came from growing up in Crestview. If I was fishing then I wasn't getting into trouble. I tried to get coach Cremins out to fish with me, but he wanted to put a time limit on fishing, and you just don't do that.''

On his freshman year with the Yellow Jackets: "Tech had just had the big year and we were No. 1 and there were a lot of expectations on us. What was great was Bobby just let me go out and play. We had a good year and we just missed winning the ACC championship again. LSU beat us here in Atlanta in the regionals, and had we played like we normally did, we would have had a chance to win it all. But we didn't play well and ran up against a hot team.''

On playing in the World Championships: "Winning gold was the most gratifying memory of my basketball career. We had David Robinson and Muggsy Bogues on that team. When we played the Russians, everyone thought they were going to beat us by 20 points. I think they had three players that were 7-4 and bigger but we won and it was great representing my country.''

On his senior season: "Bobby and I sat down before the season and talked about what I needed to do with my game for the NBA. Bobby though I needed to put the ball on the floor more and shoot the midrange jumper. We tried it, but it didn't work, abandoned it midway through the season and went back to playing with my back to the basket and being aggressive and I had a good year.''

On being a NBA lottery pick: "Going to New York for the draft was crazy. It was a wild experience with the city and all the surroundings. But I could do without all the horns honking and the sirens.''

On playing for the Bullets: "I was honored to be a lottery pick, but my first year in Washington was real eye-opening. Being a rookie under Wes Unseld was not an ideal situation. He ran practice and training camp like a boot camp. That affected my confidence. If I would have fallen down a spot or two and gone to Orlando or Minnesota, I think it would have been a much different situation for me.''

On his 31-point night in Washington against the Knicks: "What I remember most about that is Spike Lee was sitting on the first row talking trash to me all night. All it did was motivate me.''

On being traded to Denver: "That is where I was able to play and get my confidence back. I really like playing for Dan Issel. It was a lot like coach Cremins. We had some tremendous teams, and we cared about each other. We were brothers on and off the court. I was the first guy to come off the bench and got enough time in to make an impact on the game. And a big thing was beating Seattle when they were the No. 1 seed.''

On the toughest power forward to defend: "I looked forward and dreaded playing Karl Malone. I knew before I played him I had to get plenty of rest because he never stopped running up and down the court. He would rebound the ball and always get right down the court.''

On getting into drag racing: "When I was at Tech, I used to go to tractor pulls and a drag strip in (Paulding County). I ended up buying a '55 Chevy hot rod and would race on the weekend. Coach Cremins never knew about that. But in my rookie year, I had a little money and bought a '69 Camaro. I loved the sensation of going from zero to 215 miles an hour in 6.5 seconds. At that time, I was the only African-American driver and owner of a team. But when the economy took a downturn, I sold the team and all my equipment.''

On Cremins: "He was just like a father. He never judged you on what you did. He would chew us out, but we always knew he cared for us and loved us."

On whether he sees his old Tech teammates: "It's a shame we don't get together more often. It is important to come back and be a part of the program. I have been guilty of not being as active as I should. It is something I am going to be active with in the future.''