He didn't lead his team in scoring, win a championship or make a lot of headlines during his senior year at St. Frances. But for Jared Hamilton, one year in Baltimore was essential in his development into a Division I college basketball player.
"Being in Baltimore definitely was, at the time, a challenge for me," Hamilton said. "But I had to overcome those challenges and get to where I am today. It made me tougher and more aggressive. You have to be tough to play in Baltimore."
That Baltimore-bred toughness combined with the scoring ability Hamilton showcased during a post-grad year at the American Basketball Institute in Atlanta led to significant high- and mid-major interest and a scholarship offer from Jacksonville State, which he accepted last week. The 6-foot-5, 198-pound guard also had interest from Central Florida, Georgia, Georgia State, Houston, Mississippi State, Penn State, Rice, San Diego State, South Carolina and UNC-Charlotte.
"I'm really excited," Hamilton said. "The people down there are really friendly and they're turning things around at Jacksonville State."
A Charlotte, N.C., native, Hamilton and his family moved to Prince George's County before his junior year of high school. He enrolled at DeMatha and looked forward to playing on a national stage. He enjoyed his time with the Stags, but looked for less cost-prohibitive schooling options for his senior season.
Hamilton landed at St. Frances, which offered lower tuition and a similarly competitive schedule. He slid into a Panthers starting lineup that featured Dwayne Morgan, a five-star prospect who's now heading into his sophomore season at UNLV.
"I was just happy that [St. Frances] coach Nick [Myles] and those guys allowed me to come in as a new guy, not even originally from Baltimore, and be in the starting lineup," said Hamilton, who averaged around 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. "It was pretty special for me. I got to grow into that role."
His role mainly consisted of guarding the opposing team's top offensive player – Mount St. Joseph's Phil Booth (Villanova) and Calvert Hall's Nico Clareth (Siena) among them. Abilene Christian and South Carolina State were impressed, each offering Hamilton a scholarship. But he decided to delay college for a year and attempt to raise his stock at prep school.
"Everything was great. I really had a breakout year," said Hamilton, who averaged 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists at the American Basketball Institute. "Coach [Litterial] Green and his staff really trusted me to be the leading scorer, be the guy on the team."
Varsity Highlights Newsletter
Get the latest high school sports stories, photos and video from around the region.
Interest from high-major schools was flattering, but Hamilton quickly focused on Jacksonville State, which he said recruited him harder than any other school. He liked the role his future coaches envisioned for him, and he was attracted to the university's size.
"I like the school because it's a smaller school and I can really have an intimate, more close relationship with the professors and teachers," said Hamilton, who plans to major in business and marketing. "Also just how friendly everyone was. That was a big key. It's very family oriented, [which is] what I was looking for."
Hamilton said he plans to take the lessons learned at St. Frances – particularly when it comes to leadership and toughness – and put them to good use at JSU.
"I'm most looking forward to just reaching that next chapter in my story of pursuing my dreams and being a Division I college basketball player. Not many people can say that."