Talent is a prerequisite for anyone with a desire to play basketball at the D-I level.
What, exactly, do I mean by talent?
Height. Wingspan. Athleticism, and more than just an impressive vertical leap. Ball-handling. An offensive repertoire. Defensive ability. A jump-shot. With range. How much of each a player has can vary with position, and within a position (i.e. you can be super-athletic without a jump shot or relatively unathletic with 30 foot range, but you can’t be both unathletic and without a jumper) but at the end of the day there is an undefined level of "overall talent" a player needs in order to be able to compete as a high-major D-I basketball player.
But talent alone won't make you a star.
Take a look at Jordan Hamilton.
Hamilton is a rising sophomore at Texas with as much god-given ability as just about anyone at his position. A 6'7" wing, Hamilton is a natural scorer. He's athletic enough to get to the rim and finish, he has the range to be a three-point threat, and he has the body control to be effective in the mid-range.
If you were to build a mold for a wing scorer, it would be Hamilton. That's why every recruiting service considered him one of the top ten prospects in the country.
But talent alone didn’t make Hamilton a star for the Longhorns. Sure, he had some great games -- his second half domination of a good Oklahoma State team was one of the most memorable performances of the season -- but he also shot just 41% from the field and saw less than 20 minutes of action in 15 games. He played just two minutes in a Texas loss to Baylor just two days before the Oklahoma State game.
There was one reason, and one reason alone, for Hamilton's inconsistent minutes: shot selection.
And, as Hamilton told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, he learned his lesson.
"All shots aren't good shots; I learned that last year," Hamilton told DeCourcy. "When I have good teammates who can play, I don't have to shoot the ball every time. High school is much different than in college. Maybe shots that I could get away with in high school, I definitely can’t get away with in college level. A couple of bad shots can build up a lead for another team."
One of the most difficult transitions for a scorer and volume shooter moving from high school to college is the idea of a great shot. Hamilton was better than just about anyone he faced in high school. He could get any shot he wanted at any time, and with his ability there was no reason for Hamilton not to take the shot.
But in the Big XII the defense is different. Not only are the individual defenders bigger and stronger, but the team defense is that much better. Where he was able to get a decent look at the basket at will in high school, Hamilton’s jumpers were now contested and off-balance. The help side defense that was a step late in high school now is getting to the charge spot. What came easy to Hamilton in high school wasn’t as easy anymore.
As his numbers (and quotes) suggest, Hamilton learned that the hard way.
(photo credit: Austin Statesman)
With Damion James, Dexter Pittman, and Avery Bradley all off to the professional level, Hamilton – along with freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, as well as sophomore J’Covan Brown – is going to shoulder much more of the offensive load this season. As such, Rick Barnes is going to be faced with a dilemma. You want Hamilton taking smarter shots and taking them within the flow of the offense. But as Hamilton’s performances against OK State and Missouri indicate, this is a player capable of putting up a lot of points in a short period of time. You don’t want to take away from the aggressiveness that makes him such a scoring threat.
You want him to play within the system. You want him to play with, and off of, his teammates. But you also want him to understand that, when he gets it going, there is nothing wrong with taking a game over.
To his credit, Hamilton seemingly now understands this.
If he can translate that understanding into his performance on the court, there is no reason Hamilton can’t develop into an all-american and a first round draft pick.
And it may be sooner than you think.