Less than 20 minutes after UConn's season had been ended in rather inglorious fashion with a loss to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament, I was surveying the Huskies' postgame locker room.
We had just chatted with a very emotional Sterling Gibbs, who had broke down on the podium a few minutes before when asked about his memories of his one season at UConn. We didn't even bother talking to Phil Nolan, who sat in the corner with his hoodie pulled over his eyes and earphones on, overcome by tears as the fact that his four years in Storrs were now over seemed to sink in.
As I made my way to the exit to write my story, I saw Daniel Hamilton on the other end of the locker room. I briefly considered going over to ask him if he intended on returning to UConn for his junior year. Just as we had asked Rodney Purvis if he planned on returning for his final year of eligibility (he said "yes," though hardly in convincing fashion). Then I said to myself, "Nah, not worth it. I've got deadlines to meet, and Hamilton is almost definitely coming back. Right?"
Sure, I knew in the back of my mind that it wouldn't be crazy to think Hamilton might bolt to turn pro. The kid is very talented -- terrific passer, excellent rebounder, O.K. shooter. The past two years in writing for Lindy's magazine, I tabbed Hamilton as the AAC's best pro prospect (though if he returns next year, Memphis's Dedric Lawson might have given him a run for his money).
So I gave Hamilton's mom, Karen, a call about a week later, and she revealed that, indeed, her son intended on declaring for the NBA draft
. At the time, he wasn't hiring an agent, meaning he'd be able to return to UConn if he pulled out of draft consideration by May 25. Made sense. A ton of sense. Why not find out from NBA personnel how they view you, what you need to work on, etc.? Then go back to UConn if it appears your best chance is a second-round draft pick with no guaranteed money.
But there was something about that conversation with Karen Hamilton that made me think Daniel was going to leave UConn and hire an agent. She talked about how he could take online courses to keep his academics in order. When I asked what the odds were that he'd return to UConn, she couldn't provide an answer.
Turns out, Daniel Hamilton has decided to go pro
. He hasn't decided on an agent yet, but says he will. He knows some (many?) will think this is a mistake -- including, apparently, UConn coach Kevin Ollie -- but he feels it's the right decision for himself. And while we may disagree, who are we to tell a young man what do do with his life?
There is no doubt that NBA teams are intrigued by Hamilton. One official from a Western Conference team told me Hamilton will almost certainly be a second-round pick. There's worries about his demeanor (too timid) but there's a lot to like about his game, the official told me.
Now, second-round picks don't get guaranteed money -- necessarily. But they can. NBA teams can do anything they want with their second-round picks. The Celtics gave guaranteed money to Jordan Mickey last year (he's now in the "D-League"). If a team likes Hamilton's potential, they could very well take him in the second round, give him some guaranteed cash and stash him in the D-League (or overseas) for a year or two as he improves his game.
But even if that's Hamilton's best-case scenario, is it a good one? Here's what one Western Conference scout had to say:
“Say he gets drafted with guaranteed money. It’s not a great life. You’re on a bus in some God-forsaken, Palooka town. Whatever’s left of your adolescence is done. You’ve got grown men trying to take your head off in some God-forsaken place with 50 people in the stands. You’ve got a few bucks in your pocket, but you’re in Reno, Nevada, eating at a coffee shop by yourself.”
Another year in college sounds better to me, but what do I know?
The scout also had another interesting point: While NBA personnel can talk to players during the pre-draft process (and, now, with Hamilton's soon-to-be agent), the league won't let scouts talk to the kids.
"What we'd say to them is markedly different than what they're told by most people -- what they can't do, what their weaknesses are, how they're not ready," the scout said.
And how many of these kids aren't ready for the NBA yet.
"It’s a man’s league. These are talented boys coming out of college. They’re not ready for the league."
And what if a team whispers sweet nothings into a player's ear and promises they'll take him in the second round, only to have things drastically change on draft night?
"How do you know kid’s gonna be there, or another kid you like better isn’t gonna slip?" the scout noted. "You can get in a lot of trouble making promises you can’t keep."
In the end, Daniel Hamilton will be paid to play basketball somewhere next year, and it won't be for free. There's a chance he could be making a lot of money. There's a good chance he'll make a lot of money playing basketball for the next 10-plus years, wherever that may be.
I wish him the best of luck. He's a very nice, considerate young man who was fun to cover. Was it the best choice? Yes -- because it's what he believes is best for him. All other opinions really don't matter all that much.
Labels: Daniel Hamilton, Dedric Lawson, Jordan Mickey, Karen Hamilton, Kevin Ollie, Rodney Purvis