Who’s got the best hops in Division I college basketball? Who’s got that extra ounce of awe-inspiring gravity that no one else in the country can reach? These are loaded questions, and the incoming swarm of clips from midnight madness events around the country are going to lay out plenty of candidates. Twitter will be flooded with guys jumping out of their shoes, and with 358 Division I schools this upcoming season, maybe it’s an impossible question.
On the other hand, maybe it’s not, because no other player is Anthony Hamilton.
The Chicago State graduate transfer has a background unlike any other in the sport, and that’s not leaning into overused hyperbole. For one, he hasn’t played organized basketball in three full seasons, and even then got just limited playing time as a freshman at Division III University of La Verne in La Verne, Calif, averaging 5.7 minutes per game in the 2017-18 season.
But that doesn’t mean Hamilton has been sitting idle.
The dual sport athlete transferred to Clemson in 2018, becoming a big part of the Tigers’ track and field team. Primarily a high jumper, he nabbed second team all-ACC honors in 2019 and set a personal record in the 2021 indoor season by clearing the bar at just over seven feet (2.15 meters) this past January. Along the way he built a massive Instagram and TikTok following through posts revolved around something where jumping comes in handy: dunks.
Now, he’s about to live out a childhood dream. The high jumper is officially back to basketball, joining a Cougars program looking for positive momentum under first-year coach Gerald Gillion. Hamilton pulled out of the 2021 outdoor track season to focus on social media while finishing his degree, and then came the CSU opportunity.
“I’ve been playing basketball since I was growing up, and I’ve obviously wanted to play Division I,” he said. “The idea that sparked it most was, I had gotten my degree, and my brother I grew up with, Dominique Alexander, also got an offer to go play [at Chicago State] and I said, ‘well, I can get a master’s degree and I can go play with him,’ and there’s no other person I’d want to do that with.”
Gillion called Hamilton “must-see TV” after signing him, and that itself may be reason for optimism for the Cougars. The program suspended its season last December while carrying an 0-9 record and then replaced coach Lance Irvin — who had already opted out of the 2020-21 season for health reasons — with Gillion, a former Samford assistant. The university is also spending its final year in the WAC, announcing plans to leave after the current academic year.
The 6’2 Hamilton is looking to make an impact for a program in transition.
It’s not as if he’s been isolated from the sport for the last three years. Hamilton said he used to train with Clemson point guard Al-Amir Dawes, in addition to splashing his spring-loaded dunks on social media, at times while collaborating with former NBA player Caron Butler. The track and field work, however, is what he says should have him ready for at least one important aspect of organized basketball at the highest collegiate level.
“It makes it easy to get through the hard training. Once you’re strong and have a schedule on how to lift, how to take care of your body, it just makes basketball that much easier,” he said. “Some guys struggle athletically, struggle with agility and different things from an athletic standpoint, and I feel like I’m up to speed there.”
That isn’t to say there haven’t been adjustments as he jumps back onto the hardwood.
“I’m really focused on the skill work and brushing that off, and getting back to processing that with plays. I feel like when I would do open runs it’d be five on five with no concrete positions — it’s an ‘all guards’ type of thing, so just finding that concrete position will be the biggest thing,” he said. “We’ve been really consistent with me being a wing player, a slasher. I feel like that’ll be my position, I just have to make sure I know every advantage that I have on offense and defense.”
Hamilton said he got the freshman treatment four years ago at La Verne, but still learned the discipline needed to absorb a college basketball system. He developed into a leader at Clemson, especially as the university announced last November that it would cut the track and field program after the 2020-21 academic year in a move aimed at cost savings and future Title IX compliance.
Clemson AD Dan Radakovich wrote about the decision in a November 2020 letter.
After a long period of deliberative discussion and analysis we concluded that discontinuing our men’s track and field program is in the best long-term interests of Clemson Athletics. While this decision comes during the significant financial challenges due to the ongoing pandemic, those challenges are just one of many factors that led to this decision.
The program has since been saved in part through donations, but Hamilton was vocal after the announcement in highlighting the issues with disbanding the program. He told citiusmag.com that this included handing out fact sheets that pointed out the potential cut would affect 67 percent of Black athletes in non-revenue generating sports at Clemson.
As he pivots back to basketball, he joins a seemingly rarified group of athletes to have played both sports at the highest level. First and foremost might be Wilt Chamberlain, who in addition to being an all-time force on the hardwood at Kansas, also elevated his seven-foot frame 6-6 3⁄4 inches over the bar to win the Big 8 high jump championship in 1957-58. More recently, Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook competed in shot put and discus at the Big East championships after the basketball season wound down in 2015 and the Musketeers were in need of a male thrower.
While Hamilton won’t be running or jumping for Chicago State’s track and field team, he’s still hoping to use those hops. Notching a personal record in track and field is a special feeling, he said, in part because it’s so mental, but there’s one moment in particular he’s envisioning that might just surpass that.
“That first dunk will be a good moment,” he said with a laugh. “Whenever I get that chance I’m going to soak that moment in, but I’m going to murder that dunk for sure, I know that.”