Commentary

Hargrave providing a second chance

A.W. Hamilton using firsthand experience from Hargrave to get kids to Division I

Updated: October 6, 2011, 12:08 PM ET
By Dave Telep | Recruiting Nation

As the basketball coach at Hargrave Military Academy, A.W. Hamilton has two jobs: win games and keep the postgraduate program in Chatham, Va., stocked with talented players. The latter is necessary because college coaches look at Hargrave as a must-stop during the fall and because history says they should.

Hamilton took over the prominent program -- which has alums such as Hamilton himself, David West, Josh Howard, Joe Alexander and more recently P.J. Hairston and Dezmine Wells -- in the fall from Kevin Keatts, now an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. Hamilton is the only alum to coach the team in the past 15 years.

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Dave TelepA.W. Hamilton (left) took over as head coach at Hargrave this fall from Kevin Keatts (right).

Having coached Hamilton, Keatts knew he was the proper fit for the position. "He was a natural born leader," said Keatts, who gave Hargrave a dozen years in two stints and a national prep championship. "In the year that we brought him in, I didn't think he was going to play a lot then he ended up being our starting point guard. We turned the team over to him and he turned out to be one of the best leaders that I've ever been around."

On top of being a born leader, Hamilton is the perfect fit for a prep school like Hargrave, which provides kids -- who were completely overlooked in high school, despite being good players -- a second chance at playing Division I basketball.

"Before I came to Hargrave, it was down to Georgetown College and Hargrave Military Academy; that was it," Hamilton said. "We'd won a state championship in high school and I was first team all-state. I had a great career but I got lucky to come to the right place at the right time. Kevin Keatts took care of me, he took me under his wing and he turned me into a point guard."

Hamilton turned down an offer from Tom Izzo to be a backup at Michigan State and signed with Wake Forest, before finishing up his career at Marshall, where Keatts had moved on to as an assistant.

Now Hamilton is using his firsthand experience to help recruits, such as Charles Buggs and John Burke, reach their goals of playing Division I ball.

Buggs is a lean, 6-foot-8 power forward from out of Texas with high-major athleticism, leaping ability and upside. If he proves he can run with the big boys once they start keeping score, his story will be complete.

As a senior outside Dallas, Buggs was injured half of the season and wasn't fully invested in the program the other half.

"I think he's here because he got hurt last year and he needed to mature," Hamilton said. "He needs all the off-the-court things that Hargrave provides. He needed to get out of Texas. I'm hard on this kid, but he responds."

Coming out of high school, the best offers Buggs had were redshirt opportunities at low-major programs. Fast forward a few months and West Virginia's Bob Huggins, Minnesota's Tubby Smith, Wake Forest's Jeff Bzdelik and Clemson's Brad Brownell made trips specifically to see him. Arkansas, Charlotte, Seton Hall, Boston College and Dayton also dispatched assistants, many coming more than once in September.

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Dave TelepCharles Buggs is making the most of his time at Hargrave.

Buggs scored September offers from Marquette and Boston University. "He's great in the skill work. He can shoot it and he can handle it. He's super athletic," Hamilton said. "When we play pick up he's kind of a guy without a position. People are intrigued with his potential and his ability and once we start coaching him, he's going to get better."

Burke, a guard from Georgia, is at the other end of the spectrum from Buggs. Never heard of him? Don't be ashamed, few have.

"He had no offers out of high school," Hamilton said. "No offers. Zero, and he was a fully-qualified kid. We found him on the Internet. He's Mr. YouTube. Punch in his name; he's a legend, [with] professionally made videos.

"I worked him out against Dezmine Wells, and he was going right at him. He was going right at Dez; he couldn't beat him but he was really impressive."

Burke will come off the bench for Hargrave, where he'll back up Corey Heyward (Suwanee, Ga./Hargrave) and play alongside Codi Miller-McIntyre (Concord, N.C./Hargrave), a Wake Forest signee.

Miller-McIntrye, Virginia Tech's Montrezl Harrell (Tarboro, N.C./Hargrave) and Louisville's Ryan Taylor (Indianapolis, Ind./Hargrave) entered Hargrave with established reputations and offers. Burke brought intensity and a chip on his shoulder.

"The first two weeks, he wouldn't talk to anyone," Hamilton said. "He was so focused it was like he was on a business trip. We had to pull him into the office and let him know he had teammates. He was here to work and prove everybody wrong."

Burke doesn't run from the characterization. He was focused and knew it was fight or flight for him and he's not a runner. "One day I was going real hard and really into it," Burke said. "They say, 'You look like you play like you're pissed off.' They think I play mad. I'm emotional and talk a lot. I have fun with it."

While Hargrave is no pleasure cruise, Burke has embraced the experience and he will sign with a nice Division I program this year. Boston College and Arkansas are peeking.

"Tulane was in here looking at Buggs; they love [Burke]," Hamilton said. The Citadel, Gardner Webb, New Hampshire and Western Michigan offered him.

"These guys, coming out of high school were underappreciated and overlooked," Hamilton said. "They come here with a workman-like attitude, do what they're supposed to off the court, and on the court they work harder than anybody."

On Sept. 9, the first day college coaches could be out during the contact period, Keatts flew into Raleigh, rented a car and headed to Hargrave. The former coach reunited with his old player in the coach's old office. This time, Keatts wasn't running the workout. He was watching it -- just like the 10 other schools in attendance.

"I had 12 great years there and I was proud to know that I had turned the program over to one of my former players and assistants," Keatts said. "I knew he was going to do a great job."

Hamilton is on track for success. Like Keatts once had, he's got good players and even a few, like himself, who know the value of the opportunity that lies before them.

Dave Telep is the senior basketball recruiting analyst for ESPN.com. His college basketball scouting service is used by more than 225 colleges and numerous NBA teams. He can be reached at espndt@gmail.com. Don't forget to follow him on

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