New Orleans • What’s the difference between Miami and Sioux Falls, S.D.?
“About 90 degrees,” Justin Hamilton says.
For Hamilton, who helped Lone Peak High School win the Class 5A championship 2008, it’s also the difference between realizing a dream and coming up just short. Hamilton was a second-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers and, after a season playing basketball in Europe, found himself with the Miami Heat’s preseason camp this year.
“We liked him,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “He’s a skilled player. He’s big. He’s physical. He’s smart. Those things tend to play well in the right system.”
But Hamilton left South Beach with a broken nose and a chip on his shoulder to show for it.
“It was frustrating,” Hamilton said. “They said I earned my spot but just due to financial reasons, they already had guys in guaranteed spots, so I couldn’t be there.”
This weekend, Hamilton was still wearing a clear protective mask as he scored 20 points in the NBA Development League All-Star Game. The 7-footer from Alpine is one of the D-League’s top scorers and has helped the Sioux Falls Skyforce to a 19-12 record this year, as he fights for another chance in the NBA.
“I’ve got to keep that reputation, keep working, just to get back,” he said.
“I feel like I can help any team I go to,” Hamilton added.
The son of two former BYU athletes — his father, Larry, was a starter on the defensive line for the 1984 championship team, and his mother Tami was a two-time all-conference volleyball player — Hamilton chose a different route after high school
After graduating from Lone Peak, Hamilton left for Iowa State, where he played with current Jazz point guard Diante Garrett. Hamilton later transferred to LSU.
Hamilton is averaging 19 points and 9 rebounds a game and the big man can shoot, too, hitting nearly 38 percent of his 3-pointers.
“He needs to keep playing well in the D-League,” Spoelstra said. “If it’s with us, great. If it’s not, he just needs to keep plugging away. There’s not much difference between players like Justin Hamilton and players 12-through-15 on a lot of rosters. It depends on the right team. The right break.”