SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Amani Hamilton first noticed something wrong even before she reached middle school.
“I would get mean migraines and bad headaches and sometimes the medicine that I took, it wouldn’t help,” Hamilton said.
As time went on, the symptoms only got worse.
“When I got to middle school, that’s when the arm spasms came. there was stuff I wasn’t able to do,” Hamilton said. “I couldn’t stretch. I couldn’t do certain layups.”
The root of the problem was Chiari Type 1 Malformation, a condition where the back of the skull pushes on the brain, which requires corrective surgery.
“It was just completely devastating because this young lady, it happened in her freshman year,” Johnson girls basketball head coach Brandon Lindsey said. “She had been so excited about playing basketball here it was unbelievable.”
Lying in a hospital bed, unable to move, Hamilton simply tried not to cry when her mom came to visit.
“I couldn’t really cry around her,” Hamilton said. “If I did cry, it would be at school. When she cried, I would hold her to comfort her because I didn’t want her to feel bad for not catching it, but she’s not a doctor so she shouldn’t have felt bad.”
As Hamilton watched Johnson dominate from the sidelines, she drew strength from one teammate in particular who knew all too well what she was going through: point guard Tiana Williams.
“What I have is called ASD, which is a heart murmur,” Williams said. “I had to sit out for half the season during that time.”
There was a hole in Williams’ heart that required surgery in 2018, giving her an appreciation for what Hamilton went through a year later.
“I could understand how she wanted to come way harder than how she started and end it way harder than she thought she would end it,” Williams said.
After months of rehab, both players went on to have dominant careers: Williams as a ball distributor and Hamilton as a go-to scorer.
As both of them lead Johnson’s pursuit of a third state title, they approach each game with a sense of gratitude for being on the court at all.
“I feel like I can finally do what I wanted to do in ninth grade that I couldn’t do,” Hamilton said. “I can lead my team and I can actually play.
Johnson girls basketball will play its second-round game in the class AAA state tournament against Tatnall County on Saturday, Feb. 27 at 3 p.m.