Every recruiting class is good for at least one or two surprises. The 2013 class was no exception, sprinkled with a handful of unexpected, off-the-radar college choices.
Isaac Hamilton’s decision on Friday dwarfed the shock value of them all. The brother of former Longhorn scoring ace, Jordan, the younger Hamilton eschewed Texas and turned aside UCLA, the local school, despite Ben Howland’s late, full-court recruiting press. His long-awaited pick that beat out both family lineage and geography?
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard announced his choice on ESPNU, attributing his decision to his family’s close-knit connection with Miners head coach Tim Floyd.
“Tim Floyd’s been close friends of the family,” Hamilton said. “He coached my uncle at UTEP and he was real good friends with my grandmother who passed away. I felt I should go with somebody that I trust so that’s why I chose UTEP.”
Floyd had previously recruited Jordan Hamilton while as head coach at USC, but the older brother instead booked south to Texas, where he stayed for two years before blossoming into a first round pick in the 2011 NBA draft.
Hamilton has direct brotherly ties to Rick Barnes and Texas. He is an L.A. kid who plays his high school ball at nearby St. John Bosco. But neither Texas nor UCLA offered the sense of comfort that Hamilton felt with Floyd at UTEP. And so the scoring machine is taking his gadgetry to an area of the country yet to be industrialized with relevant college basketball. Until next year.
For every eyebrow his decision raised, Hamilton should earn the basketball equivalent of a helmet sticker. No, not for having the gall to turn down offers from Texas and UCLA. Rather, because Hamilton had the initiative to go against the grain, to choose a school in the best interest of he and his family irrespective of the public firestorm his decision would inevitably create.
How unlike most teenage hoops stars, who are so easily swayed by assurances of preferential treatment or the glitz of name brand schools that make national television twice a week.
UTEP offers none of that. No celebrity treatment. No guarantees from Floyd of immediate playing time (Hamilton will start from day one anyway). No pronounced national exposure. No loud booing on the road because opposing fans are too indifferent to exert the energy.
Floyd presented Hamilton a situation he could trust, a program with a support system in place. And that was enough for the well-grounded senior guard.
Conventional wisdom nudged Isaac Hamilton to Austin, then steered him home to L.A, thrusting him back and forth from one college sports hotbed to the other. In today’s glamorous culture of college athletics, Texas El-Paso is not on the radar.
Except for Isaac Hamilton, the lone teen with enough courage and sense to buck the trend of the star-struck, spotlight-craving recruit in pursuit of immediate gratification. His heart took him to overlooked El-Paso, away from where the college basketball world was awaiting him with ribbons, balloons and autograph lines stretching several blocks.
Hamilton doesn’t mind that his commitment to UTEP makes no sense to anyone outside of his immediate family. That’s the beauty of his decision. Unlike the rest of the recruiting world—rife with kids racing to the trendiest schools and faddiest conferences—Hamilton didn’t mindlessly follow the herd. He made his own decision based upon his core beliefs and values.
I can only hope future recruits turn the tables someday and follow his lead rather than the rest of the pack.