With their targeted front-court players already selected, the Washington Wizards selected Connecticut guard Richard Hamilton with the seventh pick in the NBA draft last night before an appreciative home crowd at MCI Center. It was the Wizards' first first-round selection since 1995.
Hamilton, the first shooting guard taken, was greeted with a standing ovation as he strolled onto the stage to shake hands with NBA Commissioner David Stern.
With their second-round pick -- 35th overall -- the Wizards selected Penn State center Calvin Booth, a 6-foot-11 left-hander who recorded 428 blocked shots in his career, the most ever in the Big Ten and the fifth-highest total in NCAA history.
"It was a good draft because we got what we thought we would going in," Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld said.
The team thinks Hamilton is a perfect fit, a scorer who can bolster the bench. Hamilton said the feeling is mutual. "I think coming to Washington could be the best opportunity for me," Hamilton, 21, said. "I have the opportunity to come in and step in right away, even if it's coming in and playing behind Mitch Richmond."
That, for now, is the plan. Washington intends to try to re-sign Richmond, a free agent, and have Hamilton begin his career as a reserve.
"I think it was a good pick," Richmond said. "He's a talented guard. He definitely can fill it up. It's something we need. He's good on the break and he has experience. He finished three years of school."
Something that can be said about just one of the players selected ahead of Hamilton -- Miami (Ohio) forward Wally Szczerbiak, who was taken by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the sixth pick.
Hamilton, who was named the Final Four's most valuable player after guiding Connecticut to this season's NCAA championship, is considered a clutch player: the bigger the game, the bigger the performance.
The first-team all-American scored 27 points in the Huskies' championship victory over Duke and 24 points in U-Conn.'s semifinal victory over Ohio State. Hamilton led Connecticut in scoring with a 21.5-point average.
Winning the national championship spurred his decision to enter the NBA draft after his junior season.
"I think I accomplished everything there was to accomplish" in college, Hamilton said.
Hamilton could have been a lottery pick after his sophomore season but opted to return to school -- especially after the death of his grandfather the summer before his junior season. With that extra season, Hamilton transformed himself from strictly a jump shooter into an aggressive slasher to the basket.
Hamilton is one of three collegiate players chosen to play on the U.S. Olympic qualifying team. First overall pick Elton Brand (Chicago Bulls) and Szczerbiak are the other collegians on the team.
Hamilton begins practicing with the Olympic team in two weeks in preparation for the qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico, July 14-25.
"I like the fact that he was in college for three years," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "He had a chance to mature. I like the fact he can score. He can only get better. He has a way of scoring, and in this league we need scoring."
If there is a knock on Hamilton, it is his wispy 185-pound frame.
"Everybody said that before I got to U-Conn.," said Hamilton, who said he needs to get stronger. "One thing that I am is mentally tough."
Joked Heard: "He's mentally tough, but he hasn't played in the NBA yet."
Washington, which needed help at center, did not expect Booth to fall to No. 35. He could emerge as a find for a team desperate for a low-post presence, especially on defense and rebounding.
"Calvin Booth is a good shot-blocking player," Unseld said. "He does have the ability to score down low. I was a little surprised he was still there."
Though it is early, many NBA personnel evaluators in attendance felt the Wizards had a solid draft.
Washington's majority owner, Abe Pollin, who sat in the team's "War Room" with Unseld, Heard, President Susan O'Malley and minority owners Jon Ledecky and Ted Leonsis, said he was beside himself when Hamilton became available. Pollin also was thrilled with the crowd's reaction.
"We were so happy that we got this kid," he said. "This is a kid that we wanted all the time. This is a kid that wanted to come here. We wanted a guy who could score and a guy who loves the ball in the crucial part of the game. He's not afraid to take the last shot and he wants to take the last shot.
"We were keeping our fingers crossed that he wouldn't go."
Heard admitted that Szczerbiak was whom the Wizards wanted most, but, as they correctly guessed, Szczerbiak was unavailable. Unseld said Washington did have conversations about trying to trade up in the first round, but a deal could not be reached. Washington also contemplated trading future considerations to move from the second round into the late first round but opted to stand pat.
The Richard Hamilton File
High School: Coatesville High, Coatesville, Pa.
Named first team all-American by the Associated Press as a junior after earning second team all-American honors from AP as a sophomore.
Scored 24 points in U-Conn.'s NCAA tournament semifinal victory over Ohio State and 27 points in 77-74 NCAA championship game win over Duke in March.
Named Big East and ECAC player of the year as a junior.
Only Connecticut player to score at least 700 points twice in career and 500 points in each of first three seasons.
Scored 2,036 points in three-year career, which ranks second on the all-time U-Conn. scoring list.
Scored in double figures in 94 of 103 games.
CAPTION: Richard Hamilton, a 6-foot-6 guard from Connecticut, acknowledges applause at MCI Center after the Wizards selected him in the first round of the NBA Draft.