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Dom Amore: Rip Hamilton's mark has never faded at UConn, and now his No. 32 will be stitched indelibly in time

Dom Amore, Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

HARTFORD, Conn. — The story has been told often, sometimes embellished. As Rip Hamilton tells it, after leading UConn to the Elite Eight he had made up his mind to go into the NBA draft as a sophomore. He walked through the men’s basketball headquarters at Gampel Pavilion, from one office to another, saying his goodbyes to each assistant coach.

Then came the last door and the conversation he dreaded, telling Jim Calhoun he was done with college.

Calhoun, true to form, was ready for it, his case sketched out on an easel pad in his spacious office. Hamilton was projected to go to the Knicks, who had the 16th pick in the 1998 draft, and they already had Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell, so Hamilton wouldn’t get much playing time. The guaranteed money would be relatively low and, as Calhoun flipped the sheets of paper, one layer of assumptions after another, he concluded Hamilton would soon be out of the league.

But if he returned to UConn, as more sheets were flipped, Hamilton would be an All-American, whoosh, Big East player of the year a second time, whoosh, “The Michael Jordan of UConn” … and, whoosh, a national champion.

That was enough for Hamilton to retrace his steps, telling all the assistants he was coming back, a decision that has stood the test of time.

A year later, Hamilton and the Huskies won it all, rode in the triumphant motorcade from Bradley to Storrs and suddenly, Rip Hamilton was in a moment he wanted to last forever.

 

“I didn’t want to leave,” Hamilton said. “Getting on that bus, holding that trophy up, being there with my guys, Kevin Freeman, Jake Voskuhl. I looked at Kev, he was my best friend, my counselor, my therapist, and I was his, and I said, ‘Kev, man, last year the whole thing was to leave school, this year, I don’t want to go. Let’s run this back. This is the best time I’ve had in my life, sharing with great a group of guys that support each other, a great leader at the helm, and we know what it takes now to win a championship.' ”

Assistant coach Karl Hobbs eventually convinced Hamilton that now was his time, though Calhoun had the easel pad ready with new possibilities like a third Big East award ... all-time leading scorer … whoosh, a championship repeat. Hamilton always had great timing, and now he’d surely be a lottery pick, he’d done everything he could at UConn.

It was time to move on. But when you leave the kind of mark Richard Clay “Rip” Hamilton, left at UConn, you never really leave. He went on to do great things in the NBA, and may one day be enshrined in Springfield, but he will forever belong to UConn. That will become official Saturday when Hamilton’s No. 32 jersey will be retired, his number hoisted up with Ray Allen’s, Rebecca Lobo’s and Swin Cash’s at Gampel.

“It’s going to mean everything to me,” Hamilton said. “For me, it’s the trust factor I had with Coach Calhoun. My mom and dad had to trust him, everyone had to trust him. Everything Coach has ever said to me came true, especially when you live in this world of basketball and everybody is just selling you dreams.”

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