Balling brothers: UConn’s Hamilton developed skills from ‘backyard wars’

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Daniel Hamilton’s preparations for college basketball began on the family’s backyard court, where he parlayed daily lessons from three older brothers into a scholarship at UConn.

The teaching, it seems, only went so far. When it comes to surviving a winter in Connecticut, he might not be as fundamentally sound as he is on the court. The only jacket he came to Storrs with was a lightweight one perfectly suited for cool, breezy nights — on the beach in the summer, maybe.

“He’d put the air conditioning on high and got into bed with no shirt on [to get ready for Connecticut],” joked Isaac Hamilton, who also started his college career last week, but decided to stay home in the warmth of Los Angeles and play for UCLA.

Hamilton should be warm with the Huskies this week in San Juan, where they open a three-game stay in the Puerto Rico Tip-off Tournament with College of Charleston on Thursday.

And if his early numbers are any indication, Hamilton should keep statisticians’ fingers warm during the winter filling up a box sheet, which he already did in two exhibition games and the season opener.

Against Bryant, the 6-foot-7 freshman swingman scored seven points with nine rebounds and two assists — he also had four turnovers — with a steal in 34 minutes.

“I’ve seen a lot,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said prior to the season opener. “I’ve seen him be a facilitator. I’ve seen him pick up and run full-court. I’ve seen him make 3s. I’ve seen him dunk the ball in transition, so I’ve seen a lot from a very versatile basketball player.

“We knew he was versatile and we want to make sure we put him in a position to use all his God-given talents.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY
PLAYER SCHOOL
Gary Hamilton Miami (Fla.)
Jordan Hamilton Texas
Isaac Hamilton UCLA
Daniel Hamilton UConn

Growing up as the youngest of Gary and Karen Hamilton’s four sons and trying to hold his own against three NCAA Division I basketball players helped to toughen up the newest Husky.

“He had to earn his keep to get on the basketball court,” Ollie said. “When I go to his house, I see the basketball court. They still got it back there and I know there have probably been a lot of wars back there. They probably picked on the little brother and then gave him an opportunity. He probably went in and cried to Mrs. Hamilton a lot and she told him to go back outside.

“All the things he’s probably been through to get him to have a chip on his shoulder. I think he’s got a big-time chip on his shoulder.”

There were no shortcuts to success on the Hamiltons’ court. Oldest brother Gary, who plays overseas, was the first to earn a scholarship, at Miami (Fla.). Next came Jordan, who attended Texas before leaving early and spending the past few years in the NBA.

“My different brothers helped me with different stuff,” Daniel Hamilton said. “Depending on how I am feeling that day, I hit one of them up. They were just telling me different stuff about how to go about different things.”

Isaac is a red-shirt freshman with the Bruins after being forced to sit out last season when Texas-El Paso refused to release his scholarship.

“I never took it easy on Daniel,” Isaac said. “I always made sure I killed him out there regardless.

“Now he gives us way more problems.”

At first, Hamilton was just a little man trapped in a big man’s world, but those backyard wars eventually paid off.

“He didn’t play AAU in high school, he played with a 17-under senior team,” Isaac said. “He didn’t get much playing time. He had a jersey, but nobody really took him serious.”

The youngest Hamilton spent two years at Ollie’s alma mater, Crenshaw High, where a breakout second season opened some doors.

He spent the last two years of high school starring for St. John Bosco in Bellflower, California.

“His sophomore year, that’s when I saw him start to develop,” Isaac said. “He went from like 6-2 to 6-6 and was getting better and better. You could just tell he was ready.”

David Butler II | USA Today Sports Images
Hamilton has already shown he’ll play an important role for UConn this season.

Hamilton, who was ranked 18th overall among recruits by Rivals, committed to UConn last fall, but held off signing a Letter of Intent. When he finally arrived on campus in late June, he found the Huskies were the right fit with his way of life on the basketball court.

“It’s about the same thing back at home,” Hamilton said. “I like putting in extra work and I love living in the gym, so it’s something that’s right up my alley. Once I realized in the summertime these dudes play pick-up a lot, that’s what I love, just to play basketball. I love to play basketball.”

When the veteran Huskies returned from summer vacations, they caught on fast to what their new teammate was capable of doing.

“He’s just a natural-born scorer,” senior point guard Ryan Boatright said. “He has all that talent. He’s 6-7, long, athletic, lanky, a knock-down jump-shooter. He has all the things he needs to be a great player. Obviously, he’s young and he’s a freshman, so the IQ has to increase a little more. As far as the athletic and the intangibles, he has it all.”

On a team with just one senior, how fast Hamilton develops on the floor could make a difference on the Huskies’ season. Ollie has said the freshman could play anywhere from point guard to power forward on a given night, and the Huskies might need him to produce in each role.

“Daniel Hamilton is really good,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “The question with him is going to be how quickly he figures it all out.”

Even before taking the floor at Gampel Pavilion for the first exhibition game against Southern Connecticut State, the hype had already begun for Hamilton. The coaches in the American Athletic Conference voted him the Freshman of the Year.

“Preseason player of the year, I think it was pretty nice and good, but I haven’t played a game yet,” Hamilton said. “I think I still have to prove myself.

“I think once I start playing, they will be able to judge me off how good I am.”

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