Reggie Hamilton, Eli Holman inch closer to pro careers

April 11, 2012 in Cover Story, Division I

Eli Holman and Reggie Hamilton will compete at the famed Portsmouth Invitational this week.

By Patrick Hayes

National awards are nothing for any player to turn their nose up at. I’m sure Reggie Hamilton was happy when he won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award this year. It’s a fantastic accomplishment, something he now shares with some great college players like Tim Hardaway, Earl Boykins and Tyus Edney.

It’s just that the description of the award — “This award is given annually to one senior, 6-foot-and-under, who thrived in the classroom and on the basketball court” — doesn’t help him much in the battle that he’s been fighting. At 5-foot-11, Hamilton, who just finished up his senior year at Oakland, was one of the most dynamic offensive players in the country. He’s strong and athletic enough to go up and over people to finish, but he also shot 42 percent from 3-point range this season. He was undoubtedly a shoot-first guard in college, but he still possesses enough ball-handling ability and is an unselfish enough passer to be an effective point guard.

Despite Hamilton’s prolific scoring (he led the nation in scoring this season), there has been little draft buzz about him. He’s not currently in ESPN NBA Draft analyst Chad Ford’s top 100. Last year on Twitter, DraftExpress responded to a question about Hamilton with this: “Looks like a classic low-efficiency undersized scoring guard for Europe. Streaky jumper & all.”

Those are hardly ringing endorsements for the NBA prospects one of the best Mid-Major players in the country. Still though, Hamilton will get a chance to prove his doubters wrong at this week’s Portsmouth Invitational in Virginia. Interestingly, he’ll be on the same team as Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor, who Ford currently has 73rd in his rankings. Some mocks have had Taylor going in the second round, so it will be interesting to see if Hamilton is able to out-perform him whether or not scouts start taking his potential more seriously.

Paul Kampe, the Oakland basketball beat writer for The Oakland Press (follow him on Twitter and read his Grizzlies Den blog), was kind enough to send his thoughts on Hamilton after covering him the past two seasons:

It’s a tad bit ironic the first time Reggie and Eli Holman take the court together will be all the way in Portsmouth, Va., but I digress …

Reggie’s single-biggest attribute is obviously his scoring ability, but he’s also at times shown an ability to let others take over when they’re playing and shooting well. He’s shown he can score on anyone at any time and left opposing coaches saying as much after the game. Hamilton will drive on anybody even though he is a great shooter. He’s proven to be one of the nation’s best at the free-throw line, leading the country in both attempts and makes.

Hamilton indicated after the season he’d like to work on his defense. He did lead the Summit League in steals with two per game this season. While ascending to the top of the nation in scoring, Hamilton also had a similar number of assists as his first season at Oakland, finishing second in the Summit League in both seasons in Rochester. That being said, his assist/turnover ratio didn’t improve this season, and that may have been a reason he was not a finalist after being named a candidate for the Bob Cousy award. Many Hamilton critics point to his size, but he wouldn’t be the first undersized guard to make it in the NBA, but he’s shown he has the speed and athleticism to make it happen.

Corey Schmidt (follow him on Twitter), who writes at SummitMadness.com, was also kind enough to answer a few questions on Hamilton:

What are Reggie Hamilton’s best on-court attributes?

Reggie Hamilton’s most impressive credential is that he just wrapped up a senior year in which he led the nation in scoring with 26.2 points per game. There are times when scoring champions from small schools end up scoring so many points because they chuck up a ton of shots, but Hamilton managed to achieve his scoring title with great efficiency. He achieved such efficiency this season because most of his shot attempts come at the rim, at the free throw line, or from beyond the arc where he made 42 percent of his shots. He also had a career-low turnover rate as a senior. He’s a great finisher at the basket despite his small stature, and he was really proficient at drawing trips to the free throw line this season. He was also one of the Summit League’s best players in open-court, transition plays. His three-point shooting may have gone overlooked the last two years because he played next to a great shooter in Travis Bader, but Hamilton’s just as strong of a shooter, and he showed an ability to hit threes off screens, in spot-ups, and also in isolation plays with range to the NBA line. He’s a scorer, first and foremost, and that’s how I’ll remember him due to the absurdity of his scoring this season, but it needs mentioning that he was also top-50 in the nation in assist rate in both of his seasons at Oakland. 
What are the things Hamilton needs to work on most as a professional?
Summit League and Oakland fans have seen Hamilton score against all levels of competition in Division I, so there’s little doubt that skill would translate to a professional setting. But most observers and his coach, Greg Kampe, have said that the biggest question with Hamilton is can he play defense at an NBA-level? People had similar questions with last year’s scoring champion, Jimmer Fredette, and as his rookie season has progressed he’s been nearly out of the line-up in Sacramento. So just being a scorer won’t be enough, especially given his size. 
At 5-11, Hamilton has point guard size but is more of a scorer. Do you think he can learn to play PG effectively enough to eventually get a shot in the NBA? 

Hamilton originally started his Oakland career as an off-guard, but right around the time that conference play started, an injury to another player necessitated that he become the primary ball-handler, and the Oakland offense thrived as a result. He showed he was capable of making plays for himself and others in the dribble-drive offense, particularly with a pair of experienced forwards awaiting his passes when their defenders would be drawn toward Reggie. We didn’t see as much of that this season because OU’s frontcourt was so young, and in a lot of cases they weren’t ready for Reggie’s passes and dropped the pass or weren’t quick or strong enough to finish the shot. So with that said I do think he can make plays, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be a prototypical point guard based on what we saw in his college days. The fact that Isaiah Thomas, who might be shorter than Reggie, is having a strong campaign for the Kings this season suggests to me that Reggie, like many other players of his ilk, will just need an opportunity. He has always seemed to capitalize on them in the past. 

Scouts were down on another high-usage, shoot-first, undersized guard last year in Isaiah Thomas. He was the last player picked in the second round and this year, has been one of the best rookies in the league. I don’t know that Hamilton has the same abilities as Thomas, but he’s certainly talented on offense and hard-working enough to take full advantage of even the smallest opportunity, just like Thomas did last year.

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Size isn’t a problem for Eli Holman. At 6-foot-10, 270 pounds, Holman, a key contributor for the University of Detroit, has the requisite size to be a NBA big man. His college career has been derailed by non-basketball issues.

Holman was a highly recruited player out of California (he averaged a triple double as a senior) who ended up at Indiana University. He transferred after his freshman season when Kelvin Sampson was fired. At Detroit, he quickly became an interior presence and asserted himself as one of the top rebounders in the Horizon League. As a senior, a fight at a fraternity house cost him 10 games and he didn’t get his starting spot back when returning to the lineup (although he was still a key contributor, earning the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award).

Holman didn’t quite live up to expectations as a college player, but he’s far from a bad character. UD coaches raved about his work ethic and personality — he talks about his love of horseback riding in this Fox Sports Detroit article by Reed Nelson. Nelson also had this to say about Holman in that article:

Holman is adamant that his past indiscretions don’t define who he is — not the real Eli Holman, he says, the one who’s alone in the weight room on his team’s day off.

So who’s the real Eli Holman then?

Well, he’s at least half-machine — has to be. His workout regimen is intense enough to tire bionic limbs.

According to the all-important eye test, he’s a unique combination of size and fundamentals with a robotic-like, refined work ethic. If you could capture his energy, his motor would power the Titans’ home arena, Calihan Hall.

Holman will play on Hamilton’s team at Portsmouth. Mike Hamann of UD blog Detroit Titans Hoops sent these notes on Holman’s strengths (for more UD news, visit the athletics website):

Best Attributes – Size and Strength, he is a big boy that if allowed to flourish can dominate smaller players

Area he needs to improve to become an NBA Player – His outside mid range jumpshot

I think he definitely has a chance at the NBA assuming he has the right people in his camp. His senior season wasn’t his best, but I still think he has the potential. He is a really good young man who made a few mistakes, but I feel has matured and his potential is his upside.

If Holman performs well at Portsmouth, with his size, he could follow the path of another under the radar Portsmouth alum who snuck his way into the second round, Vernon Macklin. Macklin was a solid enough starter for Florida who wasn’t much of a prospect going into last year’s draft — he was older than most bigs available in the draft due to transferring and sitting out a year in college and his statistics were solid but not overly impressive. At Portsmouth and in subsequent workouts, Macklin showed some athleticism and impressed with his attitude and the Detroit Pistons picked him in the second round.

Holman is actually a much better rebounder than Macklin — rebounding is usually a stat that projects well from college to the NBA, with Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets a good example from a Mid-Major school — and he makes a high percentage of his shots inside. He’s a big body and moves well, also similar to Macklin. Plus, Holman is three years younger than Macklin, so he won’t have the added issue of convincing teams to overlook his age when considering whether or not to draft him.

The Portsmouth Invitational usually serves as a good showcase to get players professional opportunities overseas. But every year, there are usually two or three players who really stand out there and get the attention of NBA scouts. Hamilton and Holman both have the ability to do just that if they play as well as they are capable.