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Kianna Hamilton directs operations for Portland Pilots

Kianna Hamilton is a Division I basketball star from a California Osage family that includes ones who moved back, as well as ones who stayed. Her mother stayed, in Woodland Hills, Calif., where she passed on a love of basketball and family to her daughter.

Kianna Hamilton has made a name for herself as a point guard for the Portland Pilots, and after her sixth year of Division I basketball, she is about to begin her new role as director of operations for her own team.

Her career first expanded when she transferred to the University of Portland from Long Beach State. The move, she said, gave her “so many opportunities.”

“[At Long Beach], my head coach [Jeff Cammon] at the time was already there for five years, so I thought I might as well finish off my year [with him],” Hamilton said. But then her coach left the school, so Hamilton started considering going elsewhere for her remaining years of play. She had gained an extra year due to sitting out because of injuries, a practice called “red shirting,” and her whole team was also allotted an extra year of play due to Covid.

Division 1 schools showed interest in recruiting Hamilton, and her Oklahoma relatives hoped she might end up at the University of Oklahoma. Instead, Coach Michael Meek of the Portland Pilots drew her to Portland with his strong vision for what Hamilton could do for the team.

“I never saw myself as a point guard,” said Hamilton, “but when he saw the game tape, that’s what he saw in me.” She was up for the challenge, and her team won the western conference championship that year, as well as the next year, in 2024—making them back-to-back champions for the first time in the program’s history.

Both years, they went on to the NCAA tournament and played OU in 2023 and Kansas State this year. During the 2024 game, Oklahoma family was there to cheer Hamilton on. “Proud to see #25 Kianna Hamilton leave it all on the court. We are PROUD of you!” Otto Hamilton shared via Facebook.

Kianna’s mother Nikki Hamilton is close to her Oklahoma cousins, she said. She is looking forward to taking her daughter to Oklahoma for the first time ever. Nikki describes her eldest daughter as “a low-key person”—reserved, quiet and humble.

According to family, Kianna is a lot like her grandfather, with whom she shares both humility and a strong attention to detail. “[My mom] says we are kind of alike in a way, the way we think about things,” she said. Willie Hamilton Jr. was a former Pawhuska Drumkeeper who passed away when Kianna was only four years old, and she never got to meet him.

Hamilton is also Pueblo, Italian, and Black in addition to being Osage. “She’s a proud Native,” said her mother, “but she also knows she definitely has a lot to learn. She’ll always tell people what her background is, but she grew up around an Italian family, she grew up around Black family. It’s never too late to get to know her culture.”  

When Nikki’s Osage family moved back to Oklahoma, she made the decision to stay with her own mother and maternal grandparents in California. “But let me tell you, it is so expensive to live out here, as well,” she said, noting the financial difficulties of travel from California to Oklahoma.

Despite not growing up around extended Osage family members, one way Kianna felt connected to family was through photographs. She follows relatives on social media, and learned about her grandfather through old family photos.  

“My mom would show me pictures of her father and what he would do … dancing in the Inlonshka with his family. I haven’t met him, but seeing how my mom talks about him, she looked up to him so much, and he kind of was her everything, in a way. I don’t know, just looking back at all the pictures, it’s very powerful and I wish I was able to meet him.”  

The qualities Hamilton echoes from her grandfather (meticulousness, humility) have contributed to her success, she said. “[At Portland], everything was about the details,” she said of her career with the Pilots, where her coach emphasized paying careful attention to every aspect of the game and getting every small thing right.

Oklahoma relatives did not lose track of Hamilton, either. They have watched her basketball career since high school, sharing her successes from when she was MVP at El Camino High School to her conference tournaments.

Kianna Hamilton earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Portland as a collegiate basketball player. Courtesy Photo

In her new role as director of operations at the Portland Pilots, her hope is to inspire others to accomplish their dreams, too. “I want to inspire people from our background,” said Hamilton. She is anticipating her new role as director of operations, particularly excited to stay within the same program and see the other side of how things are done. In her new role, she’ll organize travel, from hotels, meals and gear to coordinating practice times with other schools.

She’s at peace with the transition from playing to working, too, and feels satisfied from six years of college ball. Also, she has had her fill of sports injuries. “I know people who have torn their ACL three different times and still continue to play, but for me, I kind of exceeded my limit on collegiate play. If I only played four years, I would have played overseas. But we ended on a good note, so you feel complete.”  

Hamilton can see a career for herself in finance, or back in the sports world. She’s really not sure, and wants to learn through experience, networking and from her friends. Travel, however, is a goal she’s sure of. This summer, she’ll go to Greece and Croatia with her team, and she is making plans to go to Italy, New Zealand, and Oklahoma.

Her mother also wants Kianna to explore her roots in Oklahoma. As she shared, “unfortunately, after my father died, it’s kind of hard when you’re a child and one family is raising you, how do you get to the other side of the family?” She continued, “I think her thing, especially about Osage, is more of wanting to know more about the culture that we didn’t grow up in. We didn’t grow up in Oklahoma, but we are still part Osage. I think for her it is trying to get to know that side of culture. She knows her family, but she wants to know the culture.”

The time to begin that process of learning is becoming possible for the first time. Ever since Kianna was 5, her sports schedule has booked up her summers. “I’m excited to see a whole other side of family that I haven’t seen my whole life, and excited to ask them questions about their whole life,” she said. And she’s beginning her learning process by talking to her mom. “I think that’s how you get the best information,” she reflected.

Her goal? To learn “as much as possible.” She has already shown patience and endurance in learning, earning her master’s degree in business administration. From her great-grandfather William Amos Hamilton Sr., who first took Kianna’s family out to California, it appears she has inherited a legacy of adaptation, humility and care. Oklahoma is bound to welcome her, as soon as she can get here.


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Chelsea T. Hicks
Chelsea T. Hicks
Title: Staff Reporter
Languages spoken: English
Chelsea T. Hicks’ past reporting includes work for Indian Country Today, SF Weekly, the DCist, the Alexandria Gazette-Packet, Connection Newspapers, Aviation Today, Runway Girl Network, and elsewhere. She has also written for literary outlets such as the Paris Review, Poetry, and World Literature Today. She is Wahzhazhe, of Pawhuska District, belonging to the Tsizho Washtake, and is a descendant of Ogeese Captain, Cyprian Tayrien, Rosalie Captain Chouteau, Chief Pawhuska I, and her iko Betty Elsey Hicks. Her first book, A Calm & Normal Heart, won the 5 Under 35 Award from the National Book Foundation. She holds an MA from the University of California, Davis, and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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