Hamilton 'Rips' Duke
UConn star's wild ride culminates in Final Four MVP
Posted: Tuesday March 30, 1999 03:24 AM
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Last spring, Richard Hamilton thought seriously about leaving Connecticut for the NBA.
He had all the credentials including a couple of Big East championships and the conference's Player of the Year award. So he talked it over with coach Jim Calhoun and together they decided there was one more piece of business for him to complete.
"We won the Big East but never the national championship," he said. "I thought about that. I didn't want to end my season on a loss. The only thing I could do about it was come back and play."
On Monday night, he made sure to finish with a win, pouring in 27 points as the Huskies beat Duke 77-74 for the national championship he wanted so much.
Calhoun was suitably grateful.
"The first thing is, he's a great basketball player," he said. "Great scorers score so many different ways and can beat you so many different ways. He has a tremendous mind for the game."
Hamilton was heroic in the victory. Every time UConn needed a basket, he seemed there for it. He slashed to the basket, he nailed shots from outside and he took the game over in the second half.
For him, though, it was routine.
"It's been the same thing that's been going on all year," he said. "My teammates set screens. I got open opportunities and I took advantage of them."
There was one sequence near the end that showed just how much he means to Calhoun's program.
With the score tied at 68 and 3:50 left to play, he took a shot to the midsection from Duke's Chris Carrawell. Hamilton was doubled over for a moment, trying to catch his breath. Finally, he stepped to the foul line and nailed the free throws for a lead the Huskies would never again surrender.
Then, just for emphasis, the next time down the floor, he drained a 3-pointer, extending UConn's lead to five points.
For the game, he finished with 10-of-22 from the floor seven rebounds and three assists.
"Once the ball was thrown up, we attacked them like we do any other team," he said.
Hamilton was the heart of the UConn season, averaging 19.7 points and becoming the second highest scorer in school history when he went over the 2,000-point mark in Saturday's semifinal victory against Ohio State. He was an All-American and co-Player of the Year in the Big East Conference, joining Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin as the only two-time winners of that award.
And when he wasn't around, UConn missed him.
The Huskies won their first 20 games this season but when he and Jake Voshkul were hurt and missed a Feb. 1 game against Syracuse, the Huskies lost. It was no coincidence and something Calhoun said he thought about when he talked about the NBA with Hamilton last spring.
"He's had two major injuries," Calhoun said. "I would never want to have him in a situation where he's sitting there in crutches or in a cast or something and passed on a great deal of money. I'd feel very badly about that."
That said, the coach believes the extra year in college has prepared Hamilton more completely for the pros.
"Clearly, he's more ready this year than he was last year," Calhoun said.
And there's one other thing. Now, he also has the national championship he wanted so badly.
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