After emerging as the leading scorer and rebounder for LSU in his first year of action, Justin Hamilton could have returned for his senior season and helped lead a team with NCAA tournament aspirations. Instead, he announced in April he was leaving the program a year early to pursue a career playing professionally.
Hamilton hopes that move starts to pay off Thursday night.
Although the NBA draft has room for only 60 selections, the 7-foot, 260-pound center from Alpine, Utah, said he has gotten good feedback since hitting the road for pre-draft workouts.
“I’ve done extremely well in all the workouts. I’ve changed my body type a lot. I feel like I’ve put myself in a great situation,” Hamilton said. “To me, this is just one step in the process. No matter if I get drafted or go undrafted, I know I’m going to be able to get on a (NBA) summer-league team and prove my way onto a roster.”
In the mock draft he updated Monday, Chad Ford of ESPN had Hamilton going to the Boston Celtics with the 51st pick in the second round.
Hamilton worked out last week for the Utah Jazz. He said his final pre-draft workout would be Wednesday with the New Orleans Hornets, who hold the 46th pick in the second round after picking first and 10th overall.
A mobile big man with impressive instincts around the basket, Hamilton served as a role player at Iowa State before transferring to LSU after his sophomore season. After sitting out 2010-11 to satisfy NCAA residency rules, Hamilton was able to show off his scoring, passing and rebounding skills in coach Trent Johnson’s inside-out attack and blossomed into LSU’s go-to option on offense.
He averaged 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, helping the Tigers rebound from consecutive 20-loss seasons with an NIT berth. He earned second-team All-Southeastern Conference recognition.
But when he met with the media following the season, Johnson gave no indication the Tigers may lose their star big man a year early.
A pair of developments in Hamilton’s personal life played a role in the decision.
The first was that he would receive his degree from LSU soon after completing his junior season. The second was that he and his longtime girlfriend, former Iowa State softball player Courtney Wray, were engaged to be married.
Hamilton got his degree in May. The wedding is set for August.
“I just felt like I had been through college for four years, and to me, I was just done with the college life,” Hamilton said. “Definitely, playing another year (of college basketball) would improve my skills, but I know that playing anywhere for another year would improve my skills. I just wanted to take the next challenge and prove that I could play at the next level. Overall, I just was past the point of going back to school. Four years of school was enough for me.”
Hamilton’s exit began a busy, sometimes deflating offseason for LSU basketball.
Johnson left Easter weekend to become the head coach at Texas Christian. Sophomore guard Ralston Turner finished the spring semester at LSU, then transferred to North Carolina State.
The Tigers begin a new era under Johnny Jones with only five returning scholarship players.
“It’s kind of just the business of basketball. If you’re a coach or a player and have a good opportunity, you’re usually expected to take that,” Hamilton said. “But I definitely miss the guys. It would have been a fun year.”
If he has his name called Thursday night, Hamilton will be the first LSU player drafted since Marcus Thornton was taken 43rd in 2009.
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