Former Knight basketball standout Justin Hamilton was still digesting the draft-night news of his trade to the Miami Heat Thursday when he got a late call from team president Pat Riley.
The message: Welcome to the NBA.
In the brief conversation, Riley also told Hamilton he’d been watching him for a long time, likes the way he plays and thinks he can contribute to the franchise’s success.
On Friday, Hamilton talked with several people in the organization about what comes next and also had a media conference call as part of his introduction.
Hamilton described his position as being similar to a walk-on in college with an opportunity to earn a scholarship.
“Now the real work begins,” he said. “It’s just a matter of showing what I can do to help the Heat.”
Hamilton reports to Miami on July 8 to begin what vice-president of player personnel Chet Kammerer calls an “intense minicamp.” Others in attendance will include current Heat younger players and invited free agents.
On July 14, the group will fly to Las Vegas to participate in the summer basketball league there. The squad will play five games in seven days.
What happens after that is yet to be determined. Hamilton will certainly play this winter, but the question is where.
Kammerer said that one of the reasons that the Heat were interested in Hamilton is that he was willing to continue his development. “It’s our opinion that Justin’s best basketball is still ahead of him,” he said.
“One of the questions we asked when he came in for his interview prior to his workout was whether he was open to playing internationally, at least for one year and possibly longer,” Kammerer said.
“It was very crucial in our thinking, his desire and willingness to do that,” he continued. “We expect him to compete well in Las Vegas. After that, we expect him to spend some time in Miami working with our coaches on skill and physical development.”
It will most likely be a stint in Europe for Hamilton in the winter. The decision of exactly where will be made by him and his agent, with counsel from the Heat organization.
“We will want him exposed to as good a level of competition as possible, but we also want him playing for a coaching staff that can work with him on specific things and help him progress,” the director said.
Kammerer pointed out that the Heat have a successful history of developing big men and that they are typically later in developing than other players.
“I saw him play him against Kentucky last season and walked away that night thinking he would probably be back at LSU the next year,” Kammerer said.
“I thought then that if he continued to improve, he would have a chance to be close to being a lottery pick after his senior year.”
Instead, Hamilton elected to enter the draft. Kammerer said he came in somewhat under the radar.
“We think he would have had an outstanding senior year. We want to see the progression we think he can still make. If he does it, we could have gotten a real sleeper in this draft.”
Kammerer said that Miami’s interest in Hamilton started with him being at or near seven feet tall, but it doesn’t end there.
“We like the fact that he’s got good skills,” he said. “He has the ability to finish around the basket with either hand. He has a very nice shooting touch from 15 to 18 feet out.
“There’s no question he’s got offensive abilities and decent range for a 7-footer. Also, he gets to the free-throw line often and shoots a very high percentage. We like the upside there.
“He’s also a good offensive rebounder. He has some toughness and good hands. It’s very important for a big man to be able to catch the ball while moving as well as in traffic. Justin can do that,” Kammerer said.
He added that the staff has been very impressed with Hamilton’s character and maturity as well as his willingness to work.
“Justin does need to hone his body to NBA standards,” the director said. “He has good agility but at this level of competition, it’s going to be a lot tougher to compete physically and he’ll need to do more to prepare for that.
“We think it’s a good fit for all of us,” Kammerer said. “We’re good at developing bigs and he’s a good pupil. With the structure of our team right now, it’ll be best for him to get good instruction along with more experience.
“It will benefit him and us in the long run,” he concluded.
Hamilton said he knows he still has a lot of work to do but he’s confident and determined to take advantage of whatever opportunities he gets.
During the press conference call, he was asked if it had sunk in yet that he was “part of the same organization as Dwayne, LeBron and Chris.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Hamilton responded. “But, it’s great. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Hamilton was already expecting to play overseas if the NBA didn’t work out, but with Miami holding his draft rights, that alters the situation in his favor.
“It will be more structured,” he explained. “They’ll tell me what I need to work on and they’ll be keeping an eye on me. Whether I stay with the team or play over there, the situation will be good.”
Hamilton’s former teammates at Lone Peak have been thrilled with his opportunity. Knight coach Quincy Lewis summarized the local reaction.
“We’re really excited for him,” the coach said. “The kid has worked his tail off and I think I can speak for everybody with Lone Peak basketball in saying how proud we are of him. We all wish him the very best.”
Beky Beaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @BeatonWrite.