David Hamilton is the drawing card at Gallaudet College. People have been coming to see his slick moves to the basket, his fancy stuff, the way he gets excited and slam-dunks at 6 feet 3 inches. Over at Model Secondary School, on Gallaudet's campus, where Hamilton works part time, he is also the No. 1 subject.
Hamilton, a junior guard, is perhaps the primary reason the Gallaudet basketball team was 15-12 -- the most victories in the school's history, dating to 1904 -- following yesterday's finale, a 72-62 victory over St. Mary's (Md.). The Bison's last winning season was 1963, when they were 11-9.
"I was embarrassed to be on the team (1-18) last year," said Mike Stultz, a sophomore forward who played with Hamilton on the U.S. gold medal team in last summer's World Games for the Deaf. "David's a good spark for the team and has a little bit of fanciness that gets everybody excited."
Hamilton's smoothness has allowed him to average a team-high 22 points a game. And it is why Gallaudet Coach Mike Rosenbaum strenuously recruited him from the time he was playing at Kentucky School for the Deaf, where he was an all-America.
For sure, there were times Rosenbaum doubted his quest. Out of high school, Hamilton wanted to attend a hearing school and not be a "one-man team" at Gallaudet. As his brother Oscar, a freshman guard who starts for Gallaudet, said, "A hearing college is tougher." He wanted the challenge.
So Hamilton went to the University of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville, but struggled and played only sparingly. His next move was to Los Angeles Pierce Junior College in Woodland Hills, Calif., and Rosenbaum stayed in touch. Hamilton wasn't happy there, either, and when Gallaudet President Jerry C. Lee gave Rosenbaum his first-ever traveling budget last spring, Rosenbaum intensified his pursuit.
By mid-August, Hamilton still hadn't decided his next move. "I told him I was his last hope at this point," Rosenbaum said.
Rosenbaum's main selling point was that Gallaudet offered better career preparation for a deaf person. Hamilton now feels he made the right choice in attending Gallaudet, the only college for the deaf in the country competing in NCAA athletics.
"When you don't have an interpreter, you get frustrated and it's a snowball effect," Rosenbaum said of Hamilton's experience at hearing schools. "You start to think about it at basketball practice, and it affects your social life. He likes the interaction with other deaf students, and other people look up to him."
At hearing colleges, said Hamilton, "I had a hard time understanding teachers . . . Coming here I could show my leadership skills. Also, I wanted to start a tradition of a winning attitude."
Hamilton's transition was rough at times on the basketball court at Gallaudet because his level of play was higher than the rest. Rosenbaum said Hamilton is the best player he has coached during his 14-year tenure, and the other players were intimidated.
"When he first came in, I think they were a little afraid of him," said Rosenbaum. "He takes basketball so seriously. They didn't feel they could play with him. But everything is starting to jell because he's helping them out."
Hamilton said, "Sometimes it's frustrating because the hearing schools know how to do things better. A few times I felt like blowing up, but we came together."
Rosenbaum said that when a player knows the game as well as Hamilton, deafness is not much of a restriction. Hamilton, the team's speaking captain, said he becomes frustrated at times, trying to interpret a referee's call or bringing the ball upcourt against pressure while watching the coach for a play call. But mostly, he said, "I have played basketball for 15 years. It's natural for me."
"With your better deaf athlete, he sees the court," said Rosenbaum. "There's a difference between seeing the game and hearing it."