Eric Hamilton faced his share of skeptics when he signed with Wichita State’s basketball team in November. People wanted to know why he wanted to play in the Missouri Valley Conference, or why he didn’t wait for a higher-profile school.
Now they know.
“People walk up to me every day and say, ‘Wow, the Shockers won another game,’ ” he said. “When I first signed, people asked me, ‘Why did you go to Wichita State?’ ”
Hamilton, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward from Duluth (Ga.) High, completed WSU’s fall signing class and Shocker coaches see him as developing talent in the mold of current Shocker Cleanthony Early. When Hamilton watches the Early and the rest of the Shockers play on TV, his choice is reaffirmed. He follows the third-ranked Shockers closely, taking with coaches and texting his future teammates. He also watches and realizes he needs to keep working so he can contribute early in his career.
“The fact they're getting things done in the MVC definitely proves my point, that I wanted to go a school that was not too small and not too big and plays the right kind of competition,” he said. “It's definitely motivating. It pushes me in order to try and get better to make that transition as smoothly as possible.”
While Hamilton is keeping tabs on WSU, he is also enjoying a breakout season for Duluth. The Wildcats (16-12) advanced to the state tournament for the first time since 1999. They played Saturday night at Walton.
‘We're beating teams … that we probably shouldn't have a chance to beat,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton averages around 15 points and eight rebounds. Coach Eddie Hood said Hamilton’s basketball smarts and understanding of the offense are improving. He makes around 33 percent of his three-pointers and is drawing more fouls than earlier in the season.
“When he came in, his shot selection was a little scary,” Hood said. “He takes shots within the context of our offense. Before, he was more trying to take whatever shot was available and forcing it.”
Hood regularly comes to school to find Hamilton alone in the gym working on his shot. That effort helps Hamilton continue an arc of improvement that started last summer and put him on the map for many recruiters.
“This fall, he made significant improvement with his face-up game and putting it on the floor, finishing in the post and improving his shooting range,” Hood said. “He shows up every morning to work on his jump shot without being asked.”
Hamilton is working on those skills so he can help the Shockers. He is also taking note of the unselfishness it takes to play for coach Gregg Marshall.
“The fact they don't care who gets the credit is something I pay attention to,” he said. “Coach Marshall prides his team on that — one night it could be one player, another night it could be another player.”
Make it a team sport for me — Nationally ranked shot and discus thrower Kord Ferguson, a senior at Ottawa High, signed with Wichita State recently. To Ferguson, track and field is best enjoyed as a team sport. While he has big individual goals, the idea of competing at a school where the team is emphasized is attractive.
Kansas State was his second choice and he also considered Kansas and Missouri.
“I just fell in love with the way (WSU) views track and field,” he said. “It's such an important thing to them, the team aspect. You're there to help the team win meets and win conference meets.”
The atmosphere at WSU reminded him of the feeling he enjoyed when he stood on the awards podium with his Ottawa teammates after they took third in the Class 4A team standings. While national meets and elite individual accomplishments are important, he doesn’t want to be in a program where throwers only associate with other throwers.
“For me, getting to go up there with four of my track buddies was really something special,” he said. “Track and field, at times, if you’re just worried about what you’re doing, can be boring.”
Ferguson’s connection with Shocker throws coach John Hetzendorf, whom he met at a camp, put the program in his mind and the campus visit sealed the decision. Ferguson (6-6, 230) owns personal bests of 63 feet, 6 inches in the shot put and 199-1 in the discus, both of which ranked ninth nationally at the time.
He earned Kansas Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year honors as a junior. He won the shot (61-6 3/4) and discus (187-4) Class 4A titles last spring at Cessna Stadium.
“My family and I talked about it, and I figured wherever I go, I'm going to have an opportunity to throw really far,” he said. “I want to have a blast while I'm doing it.”
From the top — The Shockers are the top seed in the MVC Tournament for the fourth time since the tournament started in 1977.
No. 1 seeds have won 14 of the 37 previous tournaments (same as the No. 2 seeds). Of course, that means little for the Shockers, who haven’t won one since 1987. In its most recent appearances as the top seed (2006 and 2012), WSU lost in the semifinals. The 1981 Shockers lost to second-seeded Creighton in the championship game.
WSU plays the 12:05 p.m. game on March 7 in St. Louis.