Wednesday, March 24, 1999

UConn's Hamilton ready for NBA




BY DAVID LEON MOORE
USA Today

        He was pretty special when he got to Connecticut, but each year, Richard “Rip” Hamilton gets better.

        The All-American junior forward for the Final Four-bound Huskies has learned more about the game and about himself. He's taken on more responsibility. He's learned to create offense for others, and not to force his own.

        He's still on the skinny (6-6, 185 pounds) side, but he's gotten tougher. And he's learned he might have as much influence on a game with his defense as with his silky smooth offense.

        A witness for the defense?

        Richie Frahm, a lights-out shooter from Gonzaga who was unfortunate enough to have Hamilton's full attention in the West Regional final won by Connecticut 67-62.

        He was Gonzaga's leading scorer and best long-range shooter.

        There is no joy in chasing such a shooter around the three-point arc all game. It is work, pure and simple. And it was clear that Hamilton, such a pleasure to watch with the ball, has learned to enjoy the work he does without the ball.

        “I can't explain what I did today,” he said when the game was over and Frahm had been held to two buckets and seven points. “Coach (Jim Calhoun) emphasized that I'd have to play defense today. I didn't worry about scoring.”

        It came anyway. He made nine of 16 shots for a game-high 21 points, his average.

        Regional MVP? Hamilton.

        “He's a pro,” said Gonzaga coach Dan Monson, meaning he's good enough right now for the pros. “He's tremendous. We just couldn't guard him man-to-man, and he did a good job on Richie.

        “He's got the whole package. He's quick. He's a great scorer. He's a great competitor. He can defend and rebound. You look up the definition of an NBA player in the dictionary, and you get Hamilton.”

        Look for Hamilton on an NBA roster next season. He came close to entering the draft after his sophomore year, when he was Big East player of the year and a second-team All-American.

        He decided to stay at UConn, but a broken foot suffered last summer at the training camp for the U.S. World Championship team frightened him.

        “That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through,” he said. “But everybody stuck with me. They kept saying everything would turn out all right.”

        They were right. If he doesn't go pro after this season, when he has joined Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing as the only multiple winners of the Big East player of the year award, is a first-team All-American, is a leading national player of the year candidate and will be showcasing his talents at the Final Four, it would shock just about everyone.

        There is still concern from scouts that his slight frame will hurt him in the NBA. But he keeps winning new fans with all he has to offer, and not just his sweet jumper.

        His class. After Connecticut outlasted Iowa in a regional semifinal, Hamilton approached ousted Hawkeye coach Tom Davis. “I just told him I admire his coaching style,” he said. “He did a great job of coaching to get his team into the Sweet 16. He said, "Keep on goin'. Keep on goin'.”

        His passion. He wept after the Gonzaga game. “I never thought I'd cry after a basketball game,” he said. “It's such a great feeling. We've been putting in the work since August. ... I've been thinking about going to the Final Four since I was about 7 years old, but I never knew it would be this hard.”

       



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