The light brown suit Washington Wizards first-round draft pick Richard Hamilton wore at the NBA draft Wednesday night was modern-day stylish: cut perfectly for his slender frame, highlighted with a cream-colored tie. The shiny blue waistband with the dangling white string peeking above his pants waist didn't work, though, at least not in the fashion sense.
"Those were my [University of Connecticut] shorts," Hamilton said yesterday. "I wear them everywhere."
They were practice shorts, one of about 15 pairs he has collected since his freshman year at U-Conn. He considers them all lucky, a belief that did not change after the Wizards selected him seventh overall.
"This is where I wanted to be and the type of team I needed to play for," Hamilton said. "This is an organization that is rebuilding but also is close to being a winner. I can come in and have an impact. . . .
"You won't be disappointed."
Based on the new collective bargaining agreement in which salaries for first-round picks are determined by their draft position, Washington will sign Hamilton to a three-year contract for about $4.92 million within the next few weeks.
The Wizards have the option of signing Hamilton to a fourth season at $2.2 million. The following season, Washington has the right to match any other team's bid for Hamilton. Otherwise, Hamilton is free to sign elsewhere.
"We have a while to think about that," Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld said.
Hamilton, Washington's first first-round pick since Rasheed Wallace in 1995, spent his first day as a Wizard meeting with Unseld and Coach Gar Heard, touring the team's facilities and getting introduced to staff members.
A brief news conference was held in which Hamilton was given his No. 32 jersey and his first dose of NBA rookie reality.
"I've already said enough nice things about you," Unseld joked. "That's over with."
Hamilton acknowledged afterward that he was not wearing his lucky shorts yesterday.
Shortly after the news conference, Hamilton drove home to Coatesville, Pa., a small town where he said everyone knows each other, a place where Hamilton is a hero. Residents sported Connecticut jerseys after he led the Huskies to the NCAA championship in March. They donned Wizards gear shortly after he was selected, he said, after hearing the news from several friends and family members there.
He won't get to stay home for long, though. Next week he will travel to Orlando, where the U.S. Olympic qualifying team begins preparation for the 1999 Americas Olympic qualifying tournament July 14-25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"The Wizards got themselves a great person, not just a great player," said Al Irby, Hamilton's agent. "He's got no babies out there. He doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. His mother did a great job of raising him. You can tell because he seems to make all the right decisions."
Returning for his junior season at Connecticut instead of jumping to the NBA as a sophomore was one of the best decisions Hamilton has made, said his mother, Pamela Long.
"We had some reservations about him coming out after his sophomore year," Long said. "It was his decision but we laid out the pros and cons, researched it, looked at everything and he wanted to come back. He knew the team had a chance to make a run at the title. This year, after they won the title, there weren't nearly as many reservations."
For now, the Wizards have Hamilton penciled in to back up free agent guard Mitch Richmond, whom they plan to re-sign. Another option may be to use a lineup that includes Hamilton, Richmond, Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and Ben Wallace in a small, open-court rotation much like the New York Knicks used in the NBA Finals.
Washington may not need to use such a lineup much if second-round pick Calvin Booth, 6 feet 11, develops into the low-post presence Washington has not had since Gheorghe Muresan. A left-handed shot blocker out of Penn State, Booth said he could surprise some people with his offense, particularly his mid-range jump shot.
"It seems like a perfect fit [coming to Washington]," said Booth, who was selected 35th overall. "I consider myself one of those long, rangy guys. I guess my game is similar to somebody like Marcus Camby. I'm a rookie and I don't know how I'll fit in but I'll do whatever they want me to do."
CAPTION: "You won't be disappointed," promises Wizards draftee Richard Hamilton -- with his mother, Pam Long, and brother, Cordell -- about his future.