Hamilton and Texas tearing up the Big 12
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - After everything went so wrong for the Texas last season, Jordan Hamilton apologized to his teammates.
While there was plenty of blame to go around after the Longhorns went from No. 1 at midseason to one-and-done in the NCAA tournament, the freshman felt he'd been selfish with the ball.
"I was taking bad shots, not playing hard all the time, not understanding how hard you have to play on the college level,'' Hamilton said.
Once the apologies were made, Hamilton not only settled into being a better teammate, he's become the offensive leader on the Longhorns' as they've ripped through the first half of the Big 12 schedule and made a surprising rise to No. 3 in the AP Top 25.
The more mature Hamilton is leading Texas in scoring (18.9 points), rebounding (7.6) and has become a better passer and defender. His 55 assists rank third on the team, just three behind guard Dogus Balbay. Defensively, he helped shut down No. 22 Texas A&M's leading scorer, Khris Middleton, the Aggies' leading scorer, in last week's 69-49 win.
Texas (20-3, 8-0) plays at Oklahoma (12-10, 4-4) Wednesday night. When the teams met in Austin on Jan. 15, Hamilton made five 3-pointers in a 20-point Texas win.
At 6-foot-7, Hamilton is a tough matchup for smaller players on the perimeter and he's big enough to muscle inside to post up defenders. Hamilton has been named Big 12 player of the week three times and will be a strong candidate for player of the year.
"Obviously we know he's a great scorer, and he's a guy that loves to shoot, loves to score,'' Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said.
That love to score is part of what made things tough for Hamilton last season. When the bad shots started to fly and didn't stop, Hamilton, his coaches and his teammates got frustrated.
After the season ended, Hamilton needed to have some heart-to-heart talks with his teammates.
"I think last year, people had the sense that he was a selfish guy,'' senior forward Gary Johnson said. "He wanted to let it be known he's far from that.
"From time to time, he still gets a little trigger happy,'' Johnson joked. "But when you score that easy, it comes easy to shoot like that. From time to time, we have to give him a look like 'Hey, I'm open.'''
Hamilton was a standout player in high school in Compton, Calif., and committed to Texas without visiting campus. But he missed playing his senior season because had been declared ineligible by California officials. Hamilton had essentially flunked ninth grade - he wasn't diagnosed with a learning disorder until 11th grade - and was told he had used up his high school eligibility.
After working to make sure he could get the grades up to be eligible to play in college, his eligibility was held up by the NCAA clearinghouse. Still, Hamilton missed valuable time over that summer working out and getting to know his Texas teammates.
And when he got here, the 1,400 miles between Austin and Los Angeles seemed much farther.
"It was tough on me, not know who's who and what guys are about. You know California and Texas guys are much different,'' Hamilton said.
Hamilton wasn't the only problem. Texas players say team chemistry in general was bad. After rising to No. 1 for the first time in program history, Texas started losing so often that the Longhorns were unranked in just a few weeks.
Hamilton's offseason of reconciliation with his teammates included some self-evaluation.
"I got a chance to talk to a lot of people,'' Hamilton said. "Ron Artest. Lamar Odom. They told me on offense, be patient. Take a dribble or two to get my shot off. Post up. And defensively, shut my man down.''
Texas coach Rick Barnes immediately noticed the difference.
"He took a hard look and said, 'I'm a lot better than this. I want to be better,''' Barnes said. "He's worked hard on defense. I don't think he wants to be the weak link.''
The Longhorns are off to their best start in the Big 12 and hold a one-game lead over No. 2 Kansas. Hamilton scored 17 in Texas' 74-63 win over the Jayhawks that snapped Kansas' 69-game home winning streak.
That game caused some to question whether Hamilton had matured as much as he says he has. Texas was trying to protect a late lead when television cameras captured Barnes and Hamilton yelling at each other after a mix-up nearly caused a turnover.
The player and coach both dismiss it as two people trying to talk to each other in a loud arena. It certainly didn't damage their relationship. Hamilton has remained Texas' go-to scorer.
"I think everybody on our team has a their own unique personality,'' Barnes said. "I like the fact that he cares.''