Published March 16, 2016
PROVIDENCE — Before he was Big Shot Blake, Blake Hamilton was, well, Patient Blake.
After the UB junior wing sank the game-winning three in the closing seconds of the MAC Championship game to propel the Bulls to their second straight NCAA Tournament, the new moniker might have taken off, but it was the old one that came immediately to mind.
“It’s been a long journey and that shot was just like everything coming together,” Hamilton said. “All my hard work, all the patience, everything I went through; I just felt like I was on top of the world at that moment. It was a dream come true.”
Hamilton felt on top of the world, he said, because at times it seemed like his dream to play at the Division I level might not pan out as he had imagined.
The Pasadena, California, native grew up in a basketball family. His father, played at the University of Texas at El Paso, a cousin played at Connecticut, another cousin played at UCLA and another played in the NBA. From the time Hamilton was 4 years old, he had a basketball in his hands.
“In my family, it’s basketball or nothing for us,” he said.
After high school, Hamilton went to play at Northern Arizona. But after one season, he decided it wasn’t the best fit for him, so he left and enrolled in Mt. San Antonio College, a junior college in California.
“It was a real humbling experience,” Hamilton said. “I was living with my mom and junior college was not what I thought my college career would be. I wanted to play at the highest level and it was hard to be patient at times.”
Enter UB assistant coach Bryan Hodgson.
It was April 2015 and Hodgson was in Los Angeles for a junior college recruiting event. Hamilton’s versatility caught his eye the second he walked into the gym.
“My first thought was, ‘Can we get this kid?’” Hodgson said. “Right after the event, I called Blake and asked him if he knew anything about Buffalo. He said he watched us against Kentucky and liked our style. Obviously the rest is history and it worked out very well for everybody.”
Even more than Hamilton’s ability to do it all on the court, Hodgson said it was his path to UB that was a draw. Hodgson, who coached at the junior college level for eight years, said the experience can be humbling for players and teaches them to work that much harder.
In fact, Hamilton was a couple days away from signing with a Division II school in Georgia when Hodgson saw him. Typically, Hodgson said, junior college players are signed by April, so time was really ticking for Hamilton.
“A kid with his ability, to be playing in a junior college event in April, that’s unheard of,” Hodgson said. “His school wasn’t known for sending kids to big-time D-I programs, and all of those experiences really made Blake re-evaluate his path. He is a totally different kid now. He’s a leader now and it takes a leader to hit that type of shot. We are lucky to have him.”
And he is lucky to have UB, Hamilton said.
The deal was sealed when he came to Buffalo and went on the Maid of the Mist with coach Nate Oats and his family.
Hamilton, a sociology major, is a bit concerned to find out what a “brutal” winter is like, but he knows even though it took some time, he is at the right school for him.
“I have matured a lot and everything has worked out perfectly for me,” he said. “It’s a perfect fit here. To think about where I was a year ago — watching the tournament on TV — compared to now is just a blessing. Things couldn’t have worked out better in the end.”