With less than a month before the 2020-21 college basketball season begins, Maryland men’s basketball received uplifting news Oct. 27, as the Terps learned transfer forward Jairus Hamilton had been granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.
Hamilton joined the program April 1, but it was unclear for nearly seven months whether he would have to sit out a season. His waiver for immediate eligibility was reportedly denied twice before being approved on the third try.
“I am so appreciative of the NCAA and Maryland for their efforts in granting me this opportunity,” Hamilton said in a press release. “I am proud to be a Maryland Terrapin and am looking forward to finishing my career with my teammates in College Park.”
Turgeon delivered the news in front of the whole team at practice, prompting a celebration.
“Nothing made me happier than to deliver this news to Jairus and our team at practice today,” Turgeon said in the release. “Jairus remained positive throughout the entire process and we are thrilled for him. I am extremely thankful to the NCAA for diligently working with our administration, compliance staff and Jairus’ family to see this through.”
Hamilton’s journey to Maryland was several years in the making.
The 6-foot-8 forward was a four-star prospect in the 2018 recruiting class (No. 75 in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite). Maryland was heavily involved in Hamilton’s recruitment, hosting him for an official visit in October 2017. He was one of the Terps’ top remaining targets in January 2018 — they already had blue-chip prospects Jalen Smith, Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala — when he announced his commitment to Boston College. Hamilton’s older brother Jared also joined BC’s program that winter as a transfer.
As a freshman with the Eagles, Jairus started eight of 30 games and averaged 5.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. He then started 20 of 24 contests as a sophomore, upping his production to 9.5 points and 4.3 boards per game. Hamilton showed flashes as a plus three-point shooter, but he was ultimately inefficient at a high volume (28.1 percent on 3.7 attempts per game last season). It’s worth noting, though, that his free-throw percentage spiked from 64.4 percent as a freshman to 77.5 percent as a sophomore.
Listed as 210 pounds as a recruit, Hamilton had bulked up to 234 by last season (Maryland still lists him at that number). The Terps will likely rely less on his outside shot and more on his physicality, which allows him to drive to the rim and finish in traffic. His size and quickness make him a versatile defender, and his explosiveness is an asset in transition.
Hamilton entered the transfer portal March 22, just 10 days after the NCAA shut down the postseason due to the coronavirus pandemic. Due to health concerns in his family, he knew he wanted to be closer to home, and his existing relationships with the Maryland staff made the decision easy even without the chance to visit in person. While College Park, Md., is still several hours from Hamilton’s home in Charlotte, N.C. — this was likely the reason for two initial denials — his case was deemed strong enough in the end.
The Terps’ frontcourt still has question marks, but Hamilton brings much-needed versatility.
It’s been a year full of attrition for this part of Maryland’s roster, headlined by Jalen Smith’s departure for the NBA Draft. Twin centers Makhi and Makhel Mitchell entered the transfer portal in December 2019, just 12 games into their freshman seasons. And this offseason, forwards Ricky Lindo and Joshua Tomaic transferred to George Washington and San Diego State, respectively.
Maryland does bring back Donta Scott, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who emerged as the starter at power forward last season, and 7-foot-2 Chol Marial, who’s been recovering from a slew of injuries for several years but showed flashes of potential as a rookie. The Terps then signed Hamilton in March, 6-foot-9 Alabama grad transfer Galin Smith in May and 6-foot-10 Swiss freshman Arnaud Revaz in July.
The 2020-21 Terps will lean most heavily on their backcourt, which returns senior Darryl Morsell and juniors Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala (and includes sophomore Hakim Hart and freshmen Marcus Dockery and Aquan Smart). But the Big Ten is still littered with imposing big men, so the frontcourt players will need to step up. Hamilton and Scott should see significant time, especially if Hamilton can hold his own against centers. Marial and Smith are the most likely tandem at the five, with Revaz an option if his game develops.
Maryland has yet to officially announce its 2020-21 schedule, but the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25. And when the Terps finally take the floor, Hamilton will be in the room where it happens.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics