The University at Buffalo was desperate for an impact player on the wing last spring.
The Bulls had lost 6-foot-7 Xavier Ford to graduation and were short on long-armed athletes who could both rebound and defend the many good perimeter shooters in the Mid-American Conference.
Enter Blake Hamilton.
UB went to one of the top junior college programs in the nation, California’s Mount San Antonio, to get the 6-foot-6 Hamilton. Through 11 games, he has been exactly the kind of versatile playmaker the Bulls desired.
Hamilton scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds Saturday to help UB to an 80-73 nonconference victory over Montana State.
“He can get to the rim; he passes the ball really well; he rebounds it great, which gets us out in transition better,” said UB coach Nate Oats. “He just does everything really well.”
Montana State can attest. In the second half, Hamilton muscled his way inside for a basket in the lane. He beat the defense down court to score a transition layup. He made an alley-oop pass to David Kadiri for a bucket. He hit a three-point shot from the corner. He jumped a wing shooter to force a steal by CJ Massinburg. And when Montana State cut UB’s double-digit lead down to five with two minutes to go, he dribbled from the wing, made a nifty spin move at the foul line and hit a 15-footer off one foot.
“We’ve seen it in practice a lot, and I heard Julius on the bench as he released it say, ‘That’s his shot!’ ” said Oats, referring to assistant coach Julius Hodge. “Sure enough, it was all net. He spins, and it’s a little Dirk Nowitzki deal.”
“It’s something I don’t really do in the game, but it’s a move I practice a lot,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton is a Pasadena, Calif., native whose father, Kevin, was a star for Texas-El Paso in the 1980s. Hamilton has a cousin (Jordan Hamilton) who spent time with the Los Angeles Clippers, another (Daniel Hamilton) who plays for UConn and a third (Isaac Hamilton) who plays at UCLA.
Blake Hamilton started his career at Northern Arizona but left after seeing sparse playing time as a freshman. He says he got a lot better at Mount San Antonio.
“It made me work harder,” he said. “I was a guy who, energy-wise, I didn’t always have it. I was always talented so the game came kind of easy to me. The Mount-SAC coach pushed me every day. He didn’t let me get away with anything. If I screwed up, he kicked me out of practice. That made me better. I got kind of bigger, stronger.”
Hamilton had offers from Fordham, Cal-Fullerton, Texas Pan American, Cal-Riverside and Grand Canyon. UB assistant Bryan Hodgson coached at a West Texas junior college last year and knew about him.
“I saw UB’s game against Kentucky last year, and I saw them in the tournament,” Hamilton said. “I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. It’s a good mid-major. Yeah, it’s far from home. But I want to play in the tournament. That’s my goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do this year.”
Hamilton is averaging 10.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He’s more of a slasher to the basket than a perimeter shooter. He can defend from the One to Four positions, which means he can switch on any screen.
“I just try to do whatever I need to do that night,” Hamilton said. “Some nights it may be scoring, some nights it may be assists. I feel like I need to rebound every game, that’s one thing I do well.”
UB got 18 points and seven rebounds from guard Lamonte Bearden. Wingman Rodell Wigginton had 13 points, and guard CJ Massinburg had 10. Kadiri, a 6-8 junior, was key for UB in the second half, when the Bulls held the Bobcats to 27.8 percent shooting. Kadiri had eight points, five rebounds and three blocks.
A crowd of 2,384 saw UB improve to 6-5. Montana State is 5-6. UB plays at Virginia Commonwealth on Tuesday.