Richard Hamilton started burning the nets at Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday night as if he were playing the Lakers in the NBA Finals again.
There wasn't even a minute gone in the game when Rip touched the ball.
He set his feet, lined up a three-pointer from the right wing and fired it high over Caron Butler ... nothing but net.
Of course, he had a smile on his face when he drained it. But even when Rip is having fun he does what he does best -- score.
To him, that was a little-known fact around the league when he began his five-year NBA career with the Washington Wizards.
``I always felt I was underrated,'' Hamilton said after scoring 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting in the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Game. ``But they know me now. Now, they know me.''
Whoever ``they'' are know Rip can score and he can lead a team to a title. At 26, he is one of a handful of NBA players who have won NCAA (1999) and NBA titles.
Hamilton averaged 17.6 points in his second season in Detroit and 21.5 in the postseason, which ended with a stunning 4-1 series win over the Lakers in June.
``It was my opportunity to shine and I just went for it,'' Hamilton said as he signed autographs after the game. ``I always knew I had the ability. I just felt I was underrated.''
To his former UConn teammates, there was nothing surprising about what Hamilton did. They know him, they knew what he was like in practice. They knew what he was like in games, particularly, the biggest one in UConn history.
Hamilton scored 27 points on the grandest of stages, under the brightest of lights, to lead the Huskies to their long-awaited first NCAA title, a 77-74 victory over Duke.
``It was beautiful thing to watch,'' Khalid El-Amin said of Rip's NBA title. ``It was beautiful to see him develop into such a special player, knowing that he had what it took when we played.''
El-Amin recalled sitting at home -- in Turkey, where he was playing -- and watching Game 5 of the Finals on TV.
Ricky Moore was on the phone, arguing with his brothers, during the game. He kept telling them that the Pistons were going to win because they had Rip.
``It was his time to shine and he took the opportunity, just like in '99,'' Moore said. ``In playing against the Lakers, for the NBA championship, people got to see what we knew along about him, that he's a special player and is going to be a special player in the league. In Washington, I don't think he really got the respect or the exposure he deserved. He got it now.''
The 6-foot-6 Hamilton has been compared often recently to Reggie Miller. That comes from people who have faced both.
But Miller doesn't have an NBA title yet.
And that's something Cliff Robinson can appreciate, too, because he's been in the league 15 seasons, scored more than 18,000 points, and doesn't have a ring.
``He's blessed,'' said Robinson, who was traded by Detroit to Golden State the summer before the Pistons won it all. ``It doesn't happen to everyone. There are guys who have been in this league a long time and haven't accomplished what he's accomplished. Rip is a winner. I wish I had a chance to play with him.''
Calhoun said Hamilton is still a little oblivious to what has happened to him, in part because he has always been so humble.
But Calhoun said Hamilton is stepping out a little bit.
``I was talking to him and he was telling me he's been to the Bahamas and all these other places,'' Calhoun said. ``He's been on a whirlwind tour. I still can't believe he's left Coatesville [Pa.]. Anyway, we talked after they won it and he was just Rip. But you need to understand that these rings can't be bought and they don't grow on trees. As many players as there are in the NBA, many of them don't have a ring. This is really something special for him.''