University City

Hampton rebounds after a semester out

After starting for the varsity team for two years and having an all-conference sophomore season, Elijah "Rod" Hampton had every reason to believe he was going to be a college basketball player one day.

An after-school altercation with another student two years ago, however, led to a suspension from school.

That, in turn, which resulted in a period of basketball ineligibility last season.

By breaking the Jay M. Robinson High School scoring record this year and leading the Bulldogs to a 20-win season, Hampton has put his basketball career back on course.

His college hoop dreams, though, have not returned.

College recruiters stopped paying attention after his suspension.

Now the senior guard/forward is intent on leading the Bulldogs deep into the playoffs and revisiting his post-high school basketball plans after the season is over.

As a freshman, Hampton averaged 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two rebounds a game. He methodically turned into an all-conference-caliber player but came up one vote shy of achieving the award.

Hampton turned in an equally impressive sophomore campaign, earning all-South Piedmont 3A honors. He helped Robinson to an overall winning record, sparking excitement for what could be the following season.

After the 2009-10 season, Hampton was involved in a physical confrontation with another student on his way to the bus after school. He was suspended from school for 10 days, but he was able to make up his schoolwork and pass all of his classes.

The state athletic association, however, has an attendance policy that prohibits student-athletes from participating in sports for one semester if they miss more than 10 days of schools the previous semester.

Hampton's suspension from school pushed him over the absence limit and rendered him ineligible to play basketball during the fall semester of his junior year.

"After my freshman year," said Hampton, "I started making a name for myself with colleges. My whole attitude was that I just needed to work. I wanted to be one of the best players in the state.

"When (the suspension) happened, I didn't know what to think. My first two seasons were really good. Then that happened."

Hampton was permitted to play and work out with the team during the summer, but not when the 2010-11 school year started. He maintained his hoops skills by practicing on his own and working out individually with coach Joe Pike after Bulldogs practices.

Without him, Robinson played to a 7-6 record.

When he returned Jan. 28, 2011, Hampton scored 28 points, pulled down eight rebounds and scored a game-winning three-pointer as time ticked away to beat Northwest Cabarrus.

With Hampton, the Bulldogs won five of their last eight games. With several other key players returning this year, team insiders and outsiders thought Robinson could compete for the conference championship.

Highlights from Hampton's 2011-12 season include being named MVP of the East Lincoln Christmas tournament and scoring a season-high 30 points in a close loss to rival Concord. His averages of 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds have helped the Bulldogs to a 20-4 record entering last week's conference tournament.

What's more important, Hampton learned a valuable lesson from his suspension.

He said he's more mature and tries to be a positive role model to younger teammates and to classmates. He's invested in the future of his cousin, Keyshawn Little, an eighth-grade basketball player at Winkler Middle School, mentoring him on how to handle himself.

Regarding Hampton's own future, Pike said prep school or junior college will probably be his options coming out of high school.

Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., and Catawba Valley Community College have shown the most interest.