Commentary

All eyes on Hamilton, Wall in Jordan Classic

Updated: April 17, 2009, 12:32 PM ET
By Chris Lawlor | ESPNRISE.com

NEW YORK -- Jordan Hamilton is a changed man. Second chances usually have that affect on people and Hamilton is not taking for granted his quest for gusto.

Understand Hamilton isn't your average high school senior playing in Saturday's seventh Jordan Brand Classic at Madison Square Garden (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). He's the lone player on a roster of 24 players who did not log a single minute during his final season.

Hamilton, the No. 8-ranked player in the ESPNU 100, from Dominguez High (Compton, Calif.), failed to gain a fifth year of eligibility this season. In February, the California Interscholastic Federation denied his hardship waiver for the additional year after repeating his freshman year at Dorsey High in Los Angeles.

"I had a bad year," Hamilton recalled of first high school year (2004-05). "There were maturity issues; I tried to do the right things but couldn't."

Struggles in the classroom, sniping at teammates and barking at game officials persisted. Something was wrong.

"It was hard for me to say something wasn't right," Hamilton said.

Finally in June he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Suddenly symptoms such as disruptive order, restlessness, mood swings and inattentiveness, which plagued Hamilton, took shape. Since receiving proper medication, Hamilton's "a better person."

[+] EnlargeJordan Hamilton
Chris Williams/Icon SMIThe Jordan Brand Classic will be Jordan Hamilton's first game of the year.

"I feel blessed," he said. "It's amazing when you admit to having a problem. I'm grateful that things turned out this way; it's great to do things in a positive way."

Hamilton and his mother are contemplating writing a book chronicling the ordeal.

"We want to get the message out there that's it no problem asking for helping when you need it," he said.

Though Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 forward headed to Texas, was robbed of his senior year, he brings a plethora of credentials to the Jordan Classic. As a junior he averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds as nationally ranked Dominguez won the CIF-Southern Section Division I-AA title.

Playing at one of New York's famous basketball venues isn't new to Hamilton, who participated in the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Game in August at famed outdoor courts in Rucker Park.

"Basketball has taken me places I never dreamed of," Hamilton said. "To wear the Jordan jersey, play at the Mecca of basketball [Madison Square Garden] and play on national TV is special. I'm thankful the Nike people gave me a chance to showcase my talent and play with a group of friends.

Jordan Brand Classic

"We [the players] know each other from the summer [circuit] and camps. We're here to have fun; that's what this game's about."

Hamilton isn't the only fifth-year player looking for redemption Saturday night before a national audience

John Wall, the ultra-talented point guard from Raleigh, N.C., understands the nature of springtime recruiting when you're one of the nation's top unsigned players.

Everyone is jockeying for position for one last crack at landing an impact player and Wall is their man. Saturday plenty of eyeballs will witness the magic of Wall, who fellow Jordan players informally dubbed the best player in the nation.

"All the schools are good fits but the coach is important; really important," said Wall, who is a fifth-year senior at Word of God Academy in Raleigh.

In case you don't know, here's the list of suitors: Kentucky, Memphis, Baylor, Miami, North Carolina State, Duke, Florida and North Carolina.

Wall, 6-4, has visited Kentucky, Memphis and Baylor and nearly committed to Memphis when it was coached by John Calipari. Calipari took the Kentucky job earlier this month, and insiders think it's a matter of time before Wall follows.

"It's always on my mind," Wall said of his college decision. "When I'm walking down the street, at school or standing around the court. I'm always thinking where to go, what is the best fit. It's a lot to think about."

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Chris Williams/Icon SMIJohn Wall's college services are still up for grabs.

There is no timetable for Wall's decision but "I'll just wake up one day and know it in my heart; that's all."

Kentucky's offense, the dribble-drive motion, is appealing. It fueled Calipari's Memphis Tigers' run of four consecutive 30-win seasons and a trip to the Final Four in 2008.

The explosive offense, which calls for guard dribble-penetration, causes headaches and creates mismatches. Wall would act as the firing pin.

Alas, there's no guarantee he's headed to the Southeastern Conference without gazing down Tobacco Road.

"Duke and North Carolina have great traditions and North Carolina State is right down the road from where I live," he said.

But Wall lives for playing basketball and earning a living in the NBA would have been a given out of high school if the rule was in play.

"No question I'd have entered the [NBA] draft right out of high school," agreed Wall, smiling.

As for reports that Wall could enter this June's draft through a collective bargaining agreement loophole, this time he never wavered. "I'm going to college."

That's typical Wall, always thinking ahead.

Rosters

Here's the complete roster of players (listed alphabetically):

Kenny Boynton, American Heritage School (Plantation, Fla.); Avery Bradley, Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.); Dominic Cheek, St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.); DeMarcus Cousins, LeFlore (Mobile, Ala.); Derrick Favors, South Atlanta (Atlanta, Ga.); Abdul Gaddy, Bellarmine Prep (Tacoma, Wash.); Keith "Tiny" Gallon, Oak Hill Academy; Jordan Hamilton, Dominguez (Compton, Calif.); Xavier Henry, Putnam City (Oklahoma City, Okla.); John Henson, Sickles (Tampa, Fla.); Lamont "MoMo" Jones, Oak Hill; Marcus Jordan, Whitney Young (Chicago); Wally Judge, Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, Fla.); Ryan Kelly, Ravenscroft (Raleigh, N.C.); Tommy Mason-Griffin, Madison (Houston); Alex Oriakhi, Tilton (N.H.) School; Daniel Orton, Bishop McGuinness (Oklahoma City, Okla.); Mason Plumlee, Christ School (Arden, N.C.); Durand Scott, Rice (Manhattan, N.Y.); Renardo Sidney, Jr., Fairfax (Los Angeles); John Wall, Word of God (Raleigh, N.C.); Royce White of Hopkins (Minnetonka, Minn.); Jamil Wilson, Horlick (Racine, Wis.); and Mouphtaou Yarou, Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.).

This year's tripleheader tips at 3:30 p.m. with an International Game, followed by the Regional Game at 5:30 p.m. The opening game features 16 of the top 17-and-under players globally. The regional game showcases top players from the New York City metropolitan area in a city versus suburbs showdown.

A portion of the proceeds benefit The Children's Aid Society.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade national Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

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