The first time his team played Charlotte Country Day this season, Cannon School star Jairus Hamilton suffered an injury late in the first half. He had to sit and watch as the Bucs upset his teammates 61-59, a loss that triggered a four-game losing streak that put Cannon’s conference championship hopes in jeopardy.
So when Hamilton and the Cougars had a rematch at Country Day on Tuesday, he made a point to let the Buccaneers know they were not going to upset Cannon twice.
“You could see it in his eyes,” Country Day coach Duane Cherry said. “This was a revenge game and he was locked in.”
Hamilton is 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, and he can play all five positions on the court. He can handle the ball like a point guard. He can shoot the 3-pointer, and with a running head of steam, he can leap and throw down dunks that will take your breath away. That’s part of the reason he’s a consensus top 100 national recruit headed to the ACC’s Boston College. And last Tuesday, at Country Day, he showed off all facets of his game in a runaway 77-49 win.
Hamilton had 29 points and 11 rebounds, stacking another great performance on a season full of them.
“You just don’t have a matchup for him,” Country Day’s Cherry said. “It’s unusual to see a guy his size at this level who can get up and down the floor and do so many things. Even on the defensive end, he can guard multiple positions.”
Then, Cherry laughs.
“Kids like that,” he said, “you’re just ready to see them graduate.”
For the season, Hamilton – whose team hosts Charlotte Christian in a crucial CISAA game Friday – averages 29 points, 14 rebounds and 4.4 assists. He has scored 2,427 career points and is nearing the school record of 2,602, set by 2010 Cannon grad Jarell Eddie, who recently signed a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics.
“Jairus has completely transformed our program, how we operate,” Cannon coach Che Roth said. “He’s kind of been the face of what we do here, and it’s strictly because of who he is and how he works.”
Roth said Hamilton has always been the first player to get to practice and the last to leave, but he was really surprised when Hamilton asked to see him in his office this summer.
Hamilton, ranked No. 6 among N.C. seniors by Phenom Hoop Report, struggled on the summer travel circuit, battling through injuries and un-Hamilton-like play for a Team Loaded squad that won the Adidas summer championships in Las Vegas.
But after that win, and before he went to Los Angeles for an invitational Nike camp for elite national players, Hamilton asked Roth for a private meeting. He wanted tougher coaching.
“He said, ‘Coach, I want to be great,’” Roth said. “He took being challenged a lot after that. Before, it might’ve been a private conversation (with Roth coaching Hamilton through his flaws). I told him, ‘For the betterment of you and our team, it’s got to be public now.’ I told him, ‘Your good is not going to be good enough anymore.’”
So this is how a guy who averaged 24.8 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior has really raised his level as a senior. Part of it is Roth’s coaching, Hamilton said, and part of it is simple maturity and finally understanding how big he is on the court. Hamilton was 5-10 in eighth grade playing point guard. He was 6-6 by his sophomore year, but he still tended to fade back on his jump shot, like a smaller player worrying about having it blocked.
“Last year,” Hamilton said, “I was still trying to be a guard and trying to be on the perimeter all the time. Now I just want to find the easiest way to score. If I’m bigger than a guy, I’ll post him up and get 30 that way. If they’re bigger and slower than me, I’ll bring them outside and go by them.”
A lot of these kids, they get full of themselves during the recruiting process. Jairus’ feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Che Roth, Concord Cannon School basketball coach, on Jairus Hamilton
Hamilton’s diverse skill set attracted dozens of colleges. Ranked No. 63 nationally by 247Sports.com, Hamilton had offers from schools such as Arizona, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. He chose Boston College because of the close relationship he developed with Eagles coach Jim Christian, and the belief that he can leave a bigger mark at a school like that than at a traditional power.
Boston College also gave a scholarship to his brother Jared, 22, who transferred from Georgia Southern and will be a redshirt junior next season.
“I just fell in love with the coaching staff” at Boston College, Hamilton said. “It was the way they saw myself and the way they believe in me so much. ... I really wanted to go somewhere where I had the opportunity to come in and be part of something from the beginning. I always wanted to go somewhere I could be a big-time guy.
“They saw my game the way I saw my game, with me getting better. That’s why I picked them. It’s a perfect place where I can come in and play a big role from the beginning.”
Before he heads to campus, though, Hamilton wants to bring Cannon its first state championship in 12 seasons. The Cougars (14-13, 4-3) still have an outside shot at the CISAA championship – and a better playoff seed – but need to beat Christian (19-7, 6-1) Friday. And last year, after a similar regular season, Hamilton pushed Cannon to the state semifinals.
This year, he wants to take Cannon one round further.
“A lot of these kids,” Cannon coach Roth said, “they get full of themselves during the recruiting process. Jairus’ feet are firmly planted on the ground. He still smiles. He still has fun. He hasn’t forgotten where he comes from and he hasn’t forgotten who he is. And he’s not done yet. He’s ready to roll. We plan on making a (state championship) run and it’s going to be because of his leadership.”
Observer-area’s top seniors
On Friday, the Phenom Hoop Report, which follows North Carolina recruiting closely, released its top 100 N.C. recruits for the class of 2018. The full list is at charlotteobserver.com/sports/high-school. Here are the top 10 recruits for Observer-area schools, pulled from the ranking:
Area Rank, Name, School (College)
1. Devon Dotson, Providence Day (Kansas)
2. Jairus Hamilton, Concord Cannon (Boston College)
3. Rechon Black, Concord Cox Mill (North Carolina)
4. Hunter Tyson, Unionville Piedmont (Clemson)
5. Nate Hinton, Gaston Day (Houston)
6. Trey Wertz, Providence Day (Santa Clara)
7. Blake Preston, Charlotte Christian (Liberty)
8. Adrian Delph, Kings Mountain (Appalachian State)
9. Stephen Edoka, Concord First Assembly (undecided)
10. Quan McCluney, Gaston Day (College of Charleston)