Tommy Hamilton may have been in the best shape of his life a year ago May when he went down with a painful ankle sprain competing with his Mac Irvin Fire AAU team. It took him longer than expected to recover full range of motion, and he tried playing on it too soon.
As a result, he wasn't able to showcase his abilities all summer during the intense college evaluation period. There were also rumors of attitude problems, which might have been due at least in part to frustrations over his health situation.
Finally healthy, Hamilton began practicing with his Whitney Young team for what he hoped would be a great high school season. Then he suffered a torn patella tendon that required surgery.
"The injury happened in October, but I kept playing on it until it ripped. I had surgery in December, so I haven't played in like 6 to 7 months. Today (May 5) was like the first time I was able to get back out there."
Was it tough going through the long recovery process?
"No, not really. I had my family with me, so that made it a lot easier. I am close to 100%. I've just got to get in better shape. Get back to game speed and those sorts of things."
That is a certainty. Already bulky at 6'-9", Hamilton added extra weight that has impeded his return to the game. And the lack of conditioning made it tough for him to compete. Anyone who has played competitively and suffered a debilitating illness or injury knows the first few times back are traumatic at best. That is what Hamilton is enduring right now.
In games at the Bill Hensley Run 'N Slam Memorial AAU tournament in Fort Wayne last weekend, Hamilton found his outside shot unreliable. His body still knows how to make post moves, but he still isn't able to finish without slowing down or getting the ball stolen from his grasp. These are temporary concerns, but he has no chance to make a good impression on talent evaluators and college coaches until his game returns.
Hamilton says he has fallen off the recruiting radar.
"No one is interested right now. I'll probably learn more about that in July. I'm highly motivated to prove myself. I'll be ready by July."
He hasn't been contacted by the Illinois coaching staff. He isn't even familiar with their offensive and defensive schemes.
"I have no clue about their style of play."
Informed of Coach John Groce's desire to attack on offense and play pressure defense, Hamilton pondered whether he would fit that system.
Hamilton needs to lose around 20-30 pounds to be effective. Hopefully that problem will be resolved by July. If not by then, he is at least eager for the upcoming Whitney Young season.
"Most of our guys are back. We have a pretty young corps."
Whitney Young struggled with injuries besides Hamilton during the 2011-12 season. And their ball handling at the guard spots couldn't match the strength of a front line that includes Jahlil Okafor and Paul White in addition to Hamilton. But he feels things will be much better this season.
"From my vantage point, we have good guards. We have a great young guard in Miles Reynolds, who is getting more mature in his game. Paul White broke his foot toward the end of the season. We should be healthy and ready to roll next year."
He feels this is the year Whitney Young dethrones three-time Illinois State champ Simeon.
"Yeah, we will be ready. They'll be tough again."
Competition between the two schools is intense, yet opponents are often teammates during AAU seasons. For instance, Simeon star Jabari Parker plays with Hamilton and Okafor on the Mac Irvin Fire. Hamilton has no problem with the situation.
"We've been playing with and against each other for so long, it just seems normal."
Hamilton questioned why his Fire coach Mike Irvin kept him in a recent game despite his obvious exhaustion. That is the best way to improve conditioning, and he responded by finally making a few baskets and feeling better about himself.
He has an excellent outside game to go with improving post play when healthy. Everyone associated with him hopes Hamilton finds that specialness again soon.