- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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Isaac Hamilton was the prized recruit for UTEP coach Tim Floyd last November -- a player ranked No. 32 in his class by ESPN's RecruitingNation and one who lived within two miles of Floyd's old stomping grounds at USC.
But less than a month before the fall semester begins in El Paso, Hamilton's family said Isaac is not going to attend UTEP and wants a release from his national letter of intent so he can attend a school in the Los Angeles area -- preferably USC or UCLA -- so his ailing grandmother can watch him play next season.
Floyd said Monday he isn't going to release Hamilton and that there has been tampering.
Greg Hamilton, Isaac's father, said he emailed a letter to the UTEP administration Monday asking for the release. He said he didn't want to do anything to hurt Floyd, who he has known for decades since his younger brother, Kevin, was signed by Floyd and played for him and the late Don Haskins at UTEP in the early 1980s.
"We've known him for years," Greg Hamilton said. "Our reasons for opting out are for [my wife] Karen's mom to see him play since she's dealing with sickness [a heart condition]. She watched him play in high school but wanted to watch him in college."
Floyd's decision not to release the 6-foot-5 shooting guard doesn't mean Hamilton can't go to a school in the L.A. area, where he lives and played high school basketball at Saint John Bosco. But if he isn't released, or doesn't win an appeal to get out of the NLI (the NLI office handles such matters, not the NCAA), then he would have to pay for his own scholarship next season.
Isaac is the younger brother of former Texas player and current Denver Nugget Jordan Hamilton. His younger brother, Daniel, committed to play at UConn in the Class of 2014 but hasn't made any inquiries into getting out of his commitment. His older brother, Gary, played at Miami. The elder Hamilton said Isaac would be the only one of the four sons who would be playing in Los Angeles.
One of the sticking points for the Hamiltons is their claim that "Floyd applied for the USC job" in February.
But that's not the way things went down, Floyd said. The Trojans had parted ways with Kevin O'Neill in the middle of the season and reports surfaced that Floyd had spoken to USC.
Floyd said he never applied for the USC job, though -- only that USC athletic director Pat Haden called him about the opening.
"I was the one who called [the Hamiltons] and told them about it," said Floyd, who was the head coach at USC from 2005 to 2009 and then arrived at UTEP in 2010. "It was important for me to clear my name."
Floyd left USC amid allegations of NCAA violations of extra benefits to former player O.J. Mayo, but was ultimately never named in a violation and didn't receive any personal ban or suspension. But the school did have a postseason ban after Floyd left.
"I told them I wasn't going there," Floyd said of his conversation with the Hamiltons. "It was an unsolicited call from Pat Haden. My first call was to the Hamiltons. I told them this will leak out and that's why I'm talking to them."
Floyd said the Hamiltons at that time said that they would follow him to USC or UTEP.
"The trigger was him talking to USC," said Greg Hamilton, who added that O'Neill's perilous job status eliminated the Trojans last fall. "That gave Isaac's grandmother hope that he was going to go to USC. Isaac said he had never been able to give his grandmother anything and wants her to see him play. Yes, USC is 1.8 miles from our house. It would be the ideal school.
"But we haven't talked to USC and don't have a formal offer from any other university. We haven't discussed this with anybody. Yes, he could go to Long Beach State, Loyola, Northridge, Fullerton, any school around here, but preferably USC or UCLA."
Floyd is suspicious. He said he was called by two Pac-12 coaches and one WCC head coach saying Isaac was going to get out of his NLI. He called new USC coach Andy Enfield and told him to back off of Hamilton and said on June 4 he got a text from the Hamiltons saying that Isaac wasn't going to go to the first summer session and was concerned about what that would mean.
He said he was told Isaac wanted to work out with his brother, Jordan, "and it was at USC."
"I called Andy Enfield and he told me he's not taking Isaac Hamilton, that 'we're out of that.' But I told him the damage had already been done," Floyd said.
A text to Enfield for comment wasn't returned Monday.
Floyd said there have been calls from UTEP fans asking for their season-ticket money back. A school spokesperson said there had been message board comments on this, but nothing official.
"He potentially could be our best player," said Floyd of Hamilton.
UTEP finished 18-14 last season, 10-6 in C-USA. The Miners also lost Chris Washburn Jr. who transferred to TCU. UTEP plays in the Battle 4 Atlantis, where Floyd said he thinks the Miners will open up against USC (the bracket won't be released until later this week). Kansas and Villanova also headline the event.
"I'm sorry his grandmother is having health problems," Floyd said. "But what I'm doing I'm doing for UTEP and for everyone else. The NLI is in place so you can field a team. Young people don't have to sign a national letter of intent. You can sign a scholarship paper. The policy is in place to protect the institutions after they've spent all this money in recruiting and built their schedule around and turned down other players."
Greg and Karen Hamilton reiterated their displeasure with the situation in an email to UTEP athletic director Bob Stull, writing: "We understand from national media sources that Tim Floyd has denied Isaac's request to be released from the NLI he signed with UTEP.
"In the LA Times story, Coach Floyd states that Isaac wants out of the NLI he signed with UTEP so that he can sign with USC. For the record, the only decision that Isaac or the family has made is to seek a release from the UTEP letter of intent based on family medical circumstances that create the type of extenuating circumstances that warrant a full and complete release from the NLI signed with UTEP. No decision has been made as to where Isaac will continue his education and basketball career and to make such an unfounded allegation to the national media is unprofessional and borders on libel/slander.
"You should know that we intend to seek the advice of an attorney concerning our rights relative to the reckless statements made by Coach Floyd."
The Hamilton family also added: "We find Coach Floyd's statement 'if this [Isaac] appeal is allowed, we might as well not have letters of intent' to lack merit in light of his own efforts at self-promotion, regardless of who initiated the contact. The statement lacks even more merit when you consider the number of requests for releases from NOI that have been made and granted over the years and the fact that college basketball still prospers.
"Unless Coach Floyd is running the athletic department at UTEP, we expect you to consider the extenuating circumstances that have developed that we believe warrant a release and make an impartial decision based on the merits our request ... and not based on unfounded and slanderous statements made by a coach who at the end of the day is no different from the coaches whose character he attacks in the LA Times piece."