What's On Tap This Sunday
Detroit Pistons at Los Angeles Lakers (ABC, 9 p.m. ET)
What to Watch
Kobe Bryant and Richard Hamilton were once the top two prep players in Pennsylvania. Bryant, from Lower Merion, and Hamilton from Coatesville, played on the same youth team, competed against each other in high school, and were voted to the same high school all-American squads.
Yet, there was never any debate over who was the better player.
"Kobe had the body and was a harder worker," Sam Rines Jr., their youth league coach, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998, when Hamilton was starring for the Huskies. "[Bryant] used to go out and spend seven or eight hours on his game. Richie is working harder now that he realizes his potential."
Bryant, considered the No.1 high school prospect in 1996, went straight to the pros. In Bryant's eight NBA seasons, he has won three NBA championships, has been voted to the all-NBA team twice, and to the all-star game four times. During the same period, Hamilton toiled in relative obscurity.
He signed with Connecticut out of high school, where he instantly became a star. He averaged 15.9 points as a freshman and 21.5 points the next two seasons. His junior year, he led the Huskies to the 1999 NCAA championship.
Few could have predicted, however, that Hamilton would one day contest Bryant for the NBA crown. The Washington Wizards drafted Hamilton with the No. 7 pick and he average only nine points a game his rookie season.
But the next season he doubled that to 18.1 points a game. In his third season, he averaged 20.
He improved his production every season in Washington but that wasn't enough to persuade then Wizards general manager Michael Jordan from trading him to the Detroit Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse.
Even with his improved play, Hamilton has yet to make an all-star team, although he says he should have this season after averaging 17.6 points and four assists a game and guiding the team to the finals.
Regardless of what all-star voters thought of Hamilton's regular-season performance, his play during the post-season has likely catapulted him to NBA stardom.
He is the only Piston to score in double figures in all 18 playoff games, averaging a team high 21.5 points. He has provided offense when his teammates went cold and hit big shots at crucial times, including the free throws he sank after getting whacked in the face by Ron Artest to seal the Pistons' victory in game 6.
And it will be the 6-6, 185-pound Hamilton who will be called upon again to blanket the 6-7, 210- pound Bryant, who is averaging 25.1 points in the post season.
"It's going to be fun," Bryant told the Associated Press Wednesday. "We've played against each other so many times -- we were very good friends in high school. He plays the same. (But) he's gotten so much better."