What happened next is what makes Oakland senior co-captain Reggie Hamilton the invaluable player he is.
Hamilton dribbled the ball and made his way to the 3-point line. As the ball glided out of his hands and through the air, the crowd took a collective deep breath.
Swish. Just like he planned.
All season long, Hamilton has been the go-to guy when the Golden Grizzlies have needed him.
This play, from Saturday’s win, is just one example, among hundreds, of Hamilton’s scoring prowess. Currently among the nation’s Division I leaders, Hamilton ranks second in the country with an average of 24.6 points per game with just a handful of games remaining this season.
“He is a very complex young man, yet he is simple in that he wants to win really bad,” Greg Kampe, head coach of the OU men’s basketball team, said. “It’s been good for me to coach someone like him.”
Growing up in Chicago, Ill., basketball was a big part of his early childhood. Hamilton said his first basketball coach was his father.
Being on the shorter side growing up, Hamilton said he tried to emulate players with similar characteristics like former Philadelphia 76ers guard, Allen Iverson.
During his preps career at Thornwood High School, Hamilton lettered in both basketball and football. He led his team to a 23-7 record as a senior and the state tournament as a junior.
“(Hamilton) always had goals for himself,” Bob Curran, former head basketball coach at Thornwood High School, said. “When someone would tell him that he was too short, not strong enough or not quick enough, he would rise up to the challenge and our kids fed off that.
In January 2009, after a year and a half stint at UMKC, Hamilton asked to be released from his scholarship to explore his options. Upon his release, he started to gain the attention from the coaching staff at Oakland University.
“I thought he had some flaws in his game that we could help him perfect and thought he could flourish in our style of play,” Kampe said. “In the dribble-drive offense, the pace of play we have, he is a phenomenal player — one of the best.”
Per NCAA transfer rules, Hamilton had to sit out for the 2009-2010 season.
“The year that he sat out he got to see (the game) differently,” Kampe said. “When you’re not playing and you’re sitting on the bench, you see the things we need to do get better.”
Hamilton said being in a new place was more difficult then expected.
“My beginning here was rough,” Hamilton said. “I had no friends. After workouts I would go back home, sit in my room and wait for the next workout. It was all worth it though.
“Coming in, I didn’t like it at first. I had to start all over again. When I was at UMKC, I had in the back of my mind, ‘I’m going to come right in, start and make my mark here.’ But when I came to OU, I had to walk in (former point guard) Johnathon Jones’ shoes.”
During his time off of the court, he had to compete with Jones, who was considered one of the Summit League’s elite guards and a highly regarded member of the Golden Grizzlies family.
“When I was at UMKC, I would always look at Johnathon Jones’ stats. If there wasn’t a TV game, I would look and see what he did in the box scores … I really wanted to be competitive with him,” Hamilton said.
Kampe believes Hamilton was a catalyst for the 2009-10 Oakland team, specifically as a contributing factor for Jones’ successful season through their one-on-one battles in practice.
“If you talk to Johnathon Jones, Reggie pushed him (during the year),” Kampe said. “Johnathon will swear that he had that great year because of Reggie.”
Even early in his high school career, Hamilton’s drive was infectious to the players around him.
“He was one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever coached,” Curran said. “We’d be coming back from a game and he would be trying to get someone to play him one-on-one while waiting for rides.”
That mentality didn’t stop when he left the high school gym either.
“Kids follow him by his example,” Kampe said. “He’s always working. When other players are going to get water (during practice), Reggie is going to the line to shoot free throws.”
Players like sophomore Ryan Bass have followed his example on and off the court.
“(Hamilton taught me) how to work hard everyday. He has that type of attitude that you can’t really learn. It’s something that you’re born with,” Bass said. “He’s one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever seen. Being able to play with him, first and foremost, is an honor.”
Curran said his “never quit” attitude was always present, no matter the opponent.
The senior season
Currently, Hamilton sits a mere 0.5 points per game behind Weber State’s Damian Lillard in the nation’s scoring title race.
He is also among the leaders in 3-point baskets and free throws made.
With increasing attention from national media and opposing coaches with each big game, Hamilton is managing to keep focused.
“To be honest, it’s hard not to think about it because a lot of people are talking about it. It’s everywhere,” Hamilton said. “But every time I step on the court, I remember what I’m going out there for. The bigger picture is trying to get Oakland University a win. If I score 40 to do it — that’s the cherry on the cake.”
Hamilton has had a Summit League-best 10 games of 30 points or more and has reached double figures in 31 consecutive games dating back to last season.
He largely attributes his statistical dominance to the successful players around him.
“I’m thankful for what I’ve accomplished, but I know why I’ve accomplished it,” Hamilton said. “I have great players around me as well like Travis Bader and Drew Valentine — those guys put in just as much work as I do. If they don’t (work), I don’t get those opportunities (to score).”
Wednesday night, Hamilton will walk onto the court of the O’rena for his final home game as a member of the Golden Grizzlies when Southern Utah comes to town.
For Kampe and Hamilton alike, it’s going to be a tough night on many levels.
“It’s an emotional thing when you have a young man that’s been the heart and soul of the team for the year,” Kampe said. “(Senior night is a) part of the process, but every year on this day, it’s a sad day. You’re celebrating it, but it’s a sad day because of how much he means to the program.”
More so than any other game, there will be plenty of supporters for Hamilton and other seniors.
“Emotions are definitely going to be running high,” Hamilton said. “I’ll be thinking about even my first day of college. I’ll get a chance to play in front of some family members that haven’t got to see me since I was young.”
According to Kampe, Hamilton is going to get a shot at playing professional basketball. Whether it’s in the NBA or overseas, he’s going to face elite competition that will test his skills more than ever.
“Everyone out there knows he can score the ball. He’s an NBA scorer, there’s no doubt about that,” Kampe said. “The question is if he is big enough, and can he defend (at the NBA level).”
Hamilton said he’s determined make the most of whatever opportunities he may receive to crack the NBA.
“Growing up no one ever thought you could mention my name and NBA in the same sentence,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t happen, just to have people talking about it is a blessing.”
Outside of the numbers, accolades and records, Hamilton said he wants his work ethic to be his lasting perception by the Oakland program.
“I want my story to be, ‘He was one of the hardest working players to come through the Oakland doors,’” Hamilton said. “I sacrificed a lot in the gym. (I came in at) 6 a.m. and back later that night. Not to mention the practice in between.”
But where does Hamilton rank among the Oakland greats?
“I’m not going to rank him, but if you started a conversation about great players in Oakland University’s history, Reggie Hamilton will go down in that conversation,” Kampe said. “He is a great scorer, great leader, great winner and he is a great assist man.”
Kevin Romanchik is the Sports Editor for the Oakland Post. He covers the men’s basketball team for Oakland University as well as other local sports. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Kevin_ro.