Feb. 26, 2012
The following story is published in the Patriot League Basketball Tournament program, which will be on sale at all men's and women's tournament games.
By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Athletic Media Relations
Jordan Hamilton wasn't always the fastest, strongest or most talented basketball player. But through hard work and a determination to be the best, he has developed into a starter on a Lehigh men's basketball team with NCAA Tournament aspirations. Hamilton isn't only a starter, but also a team captain who's helped shape the identity of a squad looking to win its second Patriot League Championship in the last three years.
Hamilton's road is a long one. A native of Seattle Wash., he was always adventurous, which eventually brought him east to Bethlehem, Pa.
"I always wanted to go to a good academic school," said Hamilton. "I also had an urge to go out and experience the East Coast. I've always liked to explore, travel and take myself away from my comfort zone and put myself in new situations. I just had that urge to get away and create my own existence."
Hamilton points back to one person who has significantly impacted him from a very young age. That person is Troy Miles, who coached Hamilton on his AAU team in fourth grade. Miles has continually worked with Hamilton to help him achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a Division I basketball player.
"He wasn't the top player by any stretch of the imagination," said Miles. "Jordan has put in the effort, made the sacrifices and made the commitment."
As Hamilton explained, he started off as "a rough piece of clay."
"We laugh about this, but when Jordan first started on the team, his role was to throw the ball in bounds," said Miles. "He has come from so far and has refused to quit."
The general idea of Miles' work is getting the most out of your abilities. He calls it "the virtual player," which is something Hamilton has embodied.
"Virtual play in essence is the martial arts of basketball, the fundamentals spliced with physics and math," said Miles. "It comes down to applying your skill sets in a way that epitomizes and strategizes movements - being in control of yourself throughout the frame of movement, body dynamics and all different things like that. I train lots of players, but Jordan is one person who has gone over and above the call of duty."
Lehigh head coach Brett Reed saw a strong work ethic and desire from the beginning.
"The most appealing attribute that Jordan seemed to demonstrate was a very high desire," said Reed. "He was noted for his work ethic and determination. We felt his best basketball would be later in his career due to a developmental curve for college; his work ethic would help him reach that potential."
Hamilton saw time off the bench as both a freshman and sophomore, playing a total of 168 minutes over his first two seasons. He was part of Lehigh's Patriot League Championship squad in 2009-10 which included the likes of senior leaders Dave Buchberger, Zahir Carrington, Marquis Hall and Matt Shamis.
"That year was a great experience for everyone involved," said Hamilton. "Just winning the championship and rushing the court was something I'll never forget.
"During that time, I was learning from great leaders and great captains," Hamilton continued. "All the while I was watching, I was taking mental notes and preparing myself for when I would be in that [leadership] position."
Hamilton continued his hard work, which paid off towards the middle of last season. Over the first 16 games, he started twice, but only surpassed 20 minutes played on one occasion. Then came a crucial Patriot League contest against Holy Cross on Jan. 29, and that's when things turned around.
"I came into the second half after not playing in the first," said Hamilton. "I felt like I belonged out there for one of the first times in my career. I ended up making two free throws that ultimately took the game into overtime, and then another basket that essentially sealed our victory.
"That's when it really hit me that I was part of this team; I'm a contributor," he continued. "And that's when I stepped into myself and assumed a bigger role as a contributor rather than just a participant."
"Jordan saw an opportunity in conference play last year and produced in a close contest against Holy Cross when he made winning plays," said Reed. "Not every winning play was a made field goal. Sometimes it was a defensive stop or a key rebound. From that point on, his confidence started to sour and that confidence, combined with his amount of preparation, allowed him to perform at a high level."
That game truly was the turning point as Hamilton finished with six points and seven rebounds against the Crusaders, then went on to post double-figure points in five of the last nine games after having only one double-digit effort over the first 17 contests.
Hamilton served as the team's sixth-man down the stretch, playing 20 or more minutes in seven of the final 10 games. Then with the graduation of senior Michal Ojo, Hamilton jumped into the starting lineup this season in starting every game. One of his biggest roles, however, isn't even his on-court production; it's his leadership as he and junior C.J. McCollum were voted co-captains prior to the season.
No surprise, Hamilton has fit right in, serving as the team's vocal leader. Although he may not score as many points or grab as many rebounds as teammates like McCollum, Gabe Knutson or Holden Greiner, Hamilton has proved just as important to creating an environment of success.
"Jordan's significance to our team success cannot be overlooked," said Reed. "He's been the glue that holds our team together. He brings a defensive presence, a consistency in energy and strong leadership to complement his offensive skills.
"Without Jordan, I think our identity would be significantly different," Reed continued. "He's been one of the most important players in shaping a positive identity and culture that's helped us enjoy success on the floor."
Despite living on opposite coasts, Miles and Hamilton still talk often and continually work to make sure he's filling his potential.
"There's no limit to a person's prowess because you're dealing with capacity and capabilities," said Miles. "You may have a higher capacity than me, but if you're only operating at 40-to-50 percent of your capacity and my capacity is less, but I'm operating at a higher capacity, that gives me greater capability. Start looking at things in terms of `what's the optimization plateau, what's the 100th percentile of what we're trying to do.'
"Jordan is very much an independent person and my role is just to help mentor him," Miles continued. "He's in a terrific environment at Lehigh. I've always been a base for him in terms of his basketball life. He's a long way from home, so I'd like to see him play more often, but I really enjoy our conversations."
"Throughout my college career, I've had my ups and downs, but he's always stood there beside me and believed in me," said Hamilton. "Troy has helped give me confidence and push me towards achieving my true potential."
Reed has seen Hamilton's development first hand.
"It's very rewarding to see a player develop and improve over the course of his career," said Reed. "Jordan embodies a lot of the things that coaches emphasize to their players - the characteristics of hard work, determination, teamwork, leadership and personal accountability. They're all things he's done very well in his time here. His talent has continued to rise because it's based on a solid foundation."
Not many thought Hamilton would develop into a starter on a Division I basketball team, never mind one that's competing for a league championship and NCAA Tournament bid. Hamilton hopes his career will end on a high note and he can complete his basketball journey with his second championship ring.
"This year has been the most fun I've had playing basketball," said Hamilton. "I think a big reason for that is we're truly a family. We play together and we play for each other. On and off the court, it's almost a brotherhood and it transcends basketball in a lot of ways.
"Everyone has each other's back. We're in it for the same reason, which is to win, grow and play together," he continued. "Putting everything aside, what I've been most proud of this season is the aspect of `team' and that's something that will take us wherever we want to go, as long as we believe in it."
That belief isn't only true of the team, but also of Hamilton, who turned himself from the kid whose job was to throw the ball inbounds into a captain on a successful Division I team. It's Hamilton who has created a hard work, persistence and a culture of family, which naturally breeds success in all aspects of life. Jordan is a perfect example.