Oakland of opportunity

By Dan Fenner

The Golden Grizzlies men’s basketball program has no shortage of talented players on its bench these days, but the team will have to make room for one more on the court next season.

Reggie Hamilton, a transfer from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has spent this season on the sidelines in accordance with college basketball regulations. But Golden Grizzlies fans can expect to see him donning the black and gold jersey next year as opposed to putting up points against them.

Before becoming a member of the Grizzlies, Hamilton had some of the best games of his career against Oakland, including a career-high 23 points with UMKC on March 1, 2008.

Decision to transfer

In his year and a half stint at UMKC, Hamilton made waves in the Summit League. He was a member of the conference’s All-Newcomer Team in 2008 when he averaged nearly 12 points per game as a true freshman. The following season, he improved his scoring average and led the team in assists.

But Hamilton’s time with the Kangaroos (who finished last in the conference in 2008-09) did not go as well as he’d hoped.

He asked to be released from his scholarship and the team in January 2009 and began the process of transferring shortly after.

“I didn’t feel that I was in a position to succeed and I didn’t think I would reach my full potential there,” Hamilton said. “It’s no disrespect to any of those guys (at UMKC); it was just a personal feeling for me and my family.”

Once his intention to transfer schools became known, Hamilton began garnering interest from several mid-major schools in the region.

The first person to contact Hamilton about potentially coming to Oakland was Johnathon Jones, the Grizzlies veteran point guard.

Jones, who had developed a competitive friendship with Hamilton through several head-to-head game meetings, made a phone call to gauge Hamilton’s interest in possibly coming to play for the Grizzlies.

Oakland’s coaching staff then contacted UMKC and was granted permission to speak with Hamilton, who visited campus and learned about the program before choosing OU.

“I just felt I was familiar with this conference,” Hamilton said. “OU has a good reputation. It always finishes high in the conference and the coaching staff is well respected. I thought playing a year behind a really good point guard would better my game.”

Biding his time

Despite being limited to a practice player this season, Hamilton has found ways to help his teammates and make an impact without participating in games.

Jones said he attributes a lot of his success to daily matchups with Hamilton in team practices.

“We guard each other every day so I think that’s one of the best things I’ve had since being here; I’ve got another player who can push me,” Jones said.

Head coach Greg Kampe has been speaking of the benefits of having Hamilton around since before the season began.

“Reggie is a very hard worker and he’s very committed to being good,” Kampe said. “He has really helped our team this year with what he’s done in practice. He makes (Jones) better every day. He was an all-league caliber player at Kansas City and he’s come here and played well.”

Forecasting the future

With Jones set to move on from the program at the end of the season, the starting point guard position will be open season for the first time in a long time. Hamilton said he’s been focused on trying to mold his game into that of a true point guard — something he said he wasn’t during his time at UMKC.

“I’ve been told by a lot by people that I’m a great scorer, but I just want to be a pure point guard also with the ability to score,” he said.

Alongside Hamilton, Oakland’s backcourt will remain crowded next season — Larry Wright, Ledrick Eackles and Blake Cushingberry will return among others — but it remains to be seen which one will assume the starting point guard job.

“I’m ready to be in any role coach Kampe puts me in and try and fill it to the best of my ability,” Hamilton said.

One thing about his role on the team seems certain for next season, however.

“Sometimes we lack perimeter shooting on a consistent basis and with (Derick) Nelson leaving, we’re going to need Reggie because one of the best things he does is shoot 3-pointers,” Kampe said.

A view from the bench

Having to sit out the season before he can play, it could be expected that Hamilton would grow restless, especially in the midst of such a successful season for OU. But Hamilton said it’s been an easier wait than he expected it would be.

“The season rolled around kind of fast. It’s been good cheering the guys on and they’ve been winning so I’ve been happy for them,” he said.

He can be seen in street clothes at the end of the Grizzlies’ bench at home games, but NCAA transfer regulations prohibit him from traveling with the team on the road.

Hamilton’s unique position as a member of the team but being unable to play gives him an interesting perspective on Oakland’s championship run.

“I think people understand their roles. This is a veteran team,” Hamilton said. “People like Derick Nelson and Johnathon Jones did a good job of laying the foundation and the other guys just grabbed hold and are rolling with it.”

Hamilton will have two years of college eligibility remaining when he suits up for Oakland next season. He said he’s really looking forward to getting back into the games.

“I’m putting in the work I have to put in,” he said. “When that time comes (that I can play), I’ll be ready.”