STORRS – The NBA season is starting to take shape, identifying its contenders and pretenders. Rip Hamilton wants to play a little more, and garner a little more glory.
"I just want to go to the right team," said Hamilton, who was honored along with his teammates on UConn's 1998-99 national champions at halftime of the Huskies loss to SMU on Sunday. "I want to be on a team that has an opportunity to win it. I want to be in a situation where I have an opportunity to get another ring."
Jim Calhoun convinced Hamilton to return to UConn for one more season, and as a junior he led the Huskies in scoring and was the NCAA Tournament's most outstanding player. "Rip never took a big shot," Calhoun said. "They were all just shots, that's why he was so successful."
In the NBA, Hamilton, 6-foot-7, has played 14 seasons, averaging 17.7 points across 921 games. He played in three All-Star games and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons, coached by Larry Brown, in 2004. Hamilton was waived by the Bulls in July.
"He's one of the guys I love," said Brown, 73, now coaching SMU. "All of coach Calhoun's guys are so competitive. … Rip wants to be great, he's such a fierce competitor. I can't believe he's not playing for somebody."
Brown, who has coached nine NBA teams, said he has been calling around recommending Hamilton and said he'd get back on the phone. "He's never been out of shape a day in his life."
Hamilton said he had chances to sign with teams during training camp, but did not want to sign just for the sake of signing.
"But like my agent told me, 'You're not in a situation where you have to just make a decision now,' " Hamilton said. "'You've won championships, you made All-Star teams, made a whole lot of money. You're in a situation where you can pick and choose. You can sit back and see how the league [plays out] and go to a team that has a chance to win it."
With roughly two months left in the regular season, Hamilton, 36, thinks he can be a role player and role model for a team trying to get into the playoffs, or one that has hopes of making a deep playoff run.
"I'm a guy that doesn't really need the ball in his hand," Hamilton said. "I can feed off anybody. I'm late in my career. I'm like the old guy now with how young the league is. I'd just bring veteran leadership."
First Trip Back
Hamilton said it was the first time he had been back to Gampel for a game since 1999. He has been to UConn games in Hartford, and he attended and spoke at the event honoring Calhoun last September. Calhoun called his effort to convince Hamilton to stay "his greatest coaching job," and he said walking into Gampel with the championship trophy, after the several near-misses of the 1990s, was the high point of his coaching life. "It was like, we're here," he said. "You never get another chance to do something for the first time."
Hamilton's take: "I just put all my eggs in coach's basket, I did. I had one foot on the university campus and one foot out the door [in 1998]. I put all my trust in coach Calhoun and everything he told me in his office came true." … Others honored from the '99 team included Khalid El-Amin, who was given a place in the Huskies of Honor, Jake Voskuhl, Souleymane Wane, Kevin Freeman, Ricky Moore, Beau Archibald and Richard Moore, and assistant coaches Karl Hobbs and Tom Moore, who is now the Quinnipiac coach. … Brown said he was happy to see Calhoun, but didn't get much of a chance to chat. "He gave me a half-[hearted] wave," Brown said. "You know how competitive he is." … UConn shot 29 percent, its lowest of the season. The Huskies shot 31.7 percent in the loss to Stanford on Dec. 18, and 36.7 percent at SMU Jan. 4. … The Huskies had a 2015 recruit, Jessie Govan, a 6-foot-10 center from Manhasset, N.Y., at the game. He was sitting behind the Huskies bench. ... Shabazz Napier took a spill on a slick floor during the game, but coach Kevin Ollie said he did not appear to hurt himself. Ryan Boatright also slipped. "No one told me anything, so I'm thinking he's fine," Ollie said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun