High School Sports

Prep Basketball Preview: Before heading to Temple, Independence’s 6-foot-10 center aims for state title

Independence center Justyn Hamilton has committed to Temple and returns for a senior season that the Patriots feel will be the best team the school has had since it won the state title 18 years ago.
Independence center Justyn Hamilton has committed to Temple and returns for a senior season that the Patriots feel will be the best team the school has had since it won the state title 18 years ago. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Independence High center Justyn Hamilton said being invited to play with some of the nation’s best players has definitely changed his mindset and his game, heading into his senior season.

Hamilton, who will turn 18 in March, was twice invited to USA Basketball camps in Colorado with some of the nation’s best players in his age group. He attended USA camps in October 2015 and last summer, and didn’t make the junior national team that plays overseas in Olympic-style competition – but he did learn a lot matching up with players who might soon be household names.

“When I went out there,” Hamilton said, “there was a lot of good competition that I don’t get a chance to see every day here. I saw what I needed to improve on and how much work I have to put in to get there. But it helped me with confidence, too. When I was out there, I felt like, hey, since I can play with these guys, I can definitely do it when I get back to where I’m from.”

Patriots coach Preston Davis said he saw a definite change in Hamilton’s game, particularly during the second half of last season, and even moreso during preseason workouts. Hamilton committed to Temple last month, choosing the Owls over DePaul, East Carolina, North Florida and Ohio.

Because of that, Davis said he expects a big year from Hamilton, a 6-foot-10, 195-pound senior who averaged 9.6 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 1.3 steals last season.

“At USA, he was able to go against the best of the best, and that helped so much with his confidence,” Davis said. “Even though he’s not the biggest kid, he was attacking the rim strong, no matter who was there. He knows what he’s good at and knows what his deficiencies are. And he’s willing to work on those things.”

Davis was part of an Independence team that beat Richmond Senior 82-80 in the 1997 N.C. 4A championship game. The Patriots have not been back to the final since. Davis feels this team, led by Hamilton, has a shot to return.

The Patriots were 21-8 last season and return four starters: Hamilton plus seniors Matthew Statile, Chea Johnson and Victor Tshiona. Berry High all-conference star Jamarius Burton decided to leave the magnet school and return to his home geographic school. But Burton, one of the top juniors in North Carolina, will miss the season after tearing the ACL ligament in his knee.

“This team,” Davis said, “definitely has got the potential to be one of the better teams that’s come through here. We have a good mix of experience and we’ve got some good, solid young players who are really going to contribute a lot, and we’ve got good size on the front line.

“And Justyn’s gotten better from his freshman year to now and he’s got a lot more room to grow still. He’s going to be a very, very important piece for us.”

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133; @langstonwertzjr

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