It is uncanny how easily Richard Hamilton takes his man off the dribble, splits two defenders and gets a shot off in traffic.
There is no lightning-quick first step followed by an explosive three-foot vertical leap and fadeaway release. Instead, his approach to the basket is seemingly one fluid movement capped in its own time tunnel--almost Matrix-like.
With no deep vat of athletic ability or even a shallow bowl of muscles, Hamilton, the shooting guard from the University of Connecticut whom the Washington Wizards picked seventh overall, gets things done to the point where NBA stardom seems more than attainable.
"I've got a great feel for the game," said Hamilton, who is 6 feet 6, 185 pounds. "People tell me that all the time. A lot of players can jump out of the gym but they really don't have that feel for the game."
Hamilton's game is smooth. So, too, is Hamilton.
After leading U-Conn. to the NCAA championship last season as a junior, Hamilton's transition to the NBA has been littered with potential land mines. He has either sidestepped or defused them all with the craftiness and charm of James Bond.
His work ethic in practice and his low-key persona at training camp this week quickly endeared him to teammates. Right now, everything is good, which is a refreshing rebound from what happened over the summer.
"He's been great since he's been here," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "Everything we've asked him to do, he's done."
Hamilton's initiation to the NBA came as some of the league's preeminent stars and coaches questioned his dedication and toughness when a sprained ankle sidelined him for the entire Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico in July. Hamilton, however, said any skepticism about his dedication was well hidden from him.
"The players were supportive of me," said Hamilton, one of three rookies on the U.S. team. "When I got hurt people were not saying I need to hurry up and get better. It was like, 'Take your time. You've got your whole rookie season to play.' The players were supportive of me. Every morning they would say, 'How's your ankle?' I'd tell them, 'I'm looking forward to Wednesday to play.'
"Wednesday would get there; the ankle would not be better. I would hope for Friday. On Friday, when my ankle did not get better they would say, 'Don't rush it. If you can't play don't push it.' "
He returned from that trip only to fire his agent, Al Irby, who supposedly could not convince the Wizards to structure the first-year payments of the agreed-upon three-year, $5.9 million contract to Hamilton's liking. Hamilton hired Bill Strickland a few weeks after dumping Irby and signed his contract within days.
Minnesota star Kevin Garnett "told me that I might not realize it then but that in my NBA career I was going to go through more than one agent," Hamilton said. "When he said that I really didn't understand. When it happened, it happened. I never thought I would fire Mr. Irby because he was a great guy and I really liked his company. But it wasn't for me."
Instead of rehabilitating his sprained ankle in Washington and working out with Wizards coaches, Hamilton returned to Connecticut, where he trained with former teammates. He played a pickup game or two with some Wizards players at MCI Center during one or two trips to the area, one Wizards player said.
At one point, before Hamilton signed his contract, Heard said he was concerned because he had not heard from Hamilton for weeks. General Manager Wes Unseld had spoken to Hamilton, though, and inadvertently did not tell Heard.
"I went back to Connecticut because my mother was still living there," Hamilton said. "I had an opportunity to get away, work out with the trainer there plus I was with my mom and little brother, Cordell."
Pam Long, Hamilton's mother, along with his brother, will be moving to the D.C. area, just as they moved to Connecticut from Coatesville, Pa., where Hamilton was born and raised.
Any doubts about Hamilton have been shelved. Though he still needs to put in significant time in the weight room, Hamilton's poise and maturity have won over coaches and teammates, as has his ability to play.
"During the first few practices he's been feeling his way around so he probably was a little awkward the first two days," point guard Rod Strickland said after the team's first scrimmage on Thursday, when Hamilton scored 12 points. "I think he played well. He hit shots, ran the floor, went to the hole. He did the things he's capable of doing."
Added forward Juwan Howard: "Young fella's got a lot of talent, a lot of potential. He's going to have a good career in this league."
When the opportunity has arisen, Hamilton has turned to guard Mitch Richmond and Strickland for advice. Hamilton will come off the bench behind Richmond this season and possibly the next two. Richmond signed a four-year, $40 million contract that guarantees him $30 million over the first three seasons. Hamilton sees no problem with his subordinate role.
"I want to come in and play regardless if that's fitting in or if that's me coming out and earning a spot," Hamilton said.
Said Richmond: "He's a young talent. With Rod and myself, I think he can learn a lot. He has the tools to play this game but sometimes you have to learn the mental aspects to go ahead and play and have a long career. I think we'll school him pretty well."
With all that has happened in the short time since he was drafted June 30, Hamilton now says he is ready to handle anything--especially helping the Wizards succeed.
"I think I've learned a lot about what the NBA is all about," Hamilton said. "I know there are expectations but I'm ready. It's always been this way with me and I've been able to handle everything so far."
Wizards Notes: Washington ended its twice-daily workouts at Shepherd College today. Heard said everything progressed as planned, although he is mildly disappointed that Richmond practiced just two days because of a strained right hamstring. Richmond might practice Monday when the team holds its first workout at MCI Center.
The Wizards begin their preseason schedule with games against the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night in Little Rock and Wednesday night in Kansas City, Mo. Heard said he expects to trim the 20-man roster on Thursday. . . .
Forward Aaron Williams missed his second day of practice with back spasms.
Date Opponent Time
Tues. vs. L.A. Lakers 8:30
Wed. vs. L.A. Lakers 8:30
Oct. 21 at Cleveland 7:30
Oct. 23 vs. Cleveland* 7
Oct. 25 at New York 7:30
Oct. 27 at Boston 7:30
Oct. 29 vs. Boston**7
*at Baltimore Arena