Jairus Hamilton stood in the corner of the floor in front of a packed house at the John Wall Invitational on Dec. 29, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C. The Cannon School junior cut to the basket, slipping behind Hillcrest senior Deandre Ayton, then the nation’s No. 1 prospect. Hamilton rose up as his teammate threw an alley-oop. A Hillcrest defender jumped with him. Hamilton caught the lob and threw it down. A foul was called, and Hamilton stared down the defender as the crowd erupted.
Moments like this didn’t happen for Cannon, a private school in Concord, N.C., before Hamilton arrived as a sophomore in 2015-16. The Cougars improved from 9-16 to 18-12 in Hamilton’s first year. He scored 2,574 points in three seasons, second on the program’s all-time scoring list — trailing only former NBA player Jarell Eddie, who played five seasons starting in eighth grade. Cannon went 27-6 and won the state championship for its class in 2019-20, and while Hamilton graduated two years earlier, head coach Che Roth is adamant the school doesn’t reach the top without him.
“His fingerprints are all over our program,” Roth said. “I think the biggest thing that stands out for me in talking about Jairus is how much better he made everybody around him, not just from a competitive standpoint but from a belief standpoint. All of our kids — and he played with high-level guys — all those kids looked to him for leadership, for confidence and for affirmation of what they were doing. And they all believed in him, so they believed in our team.”
Nearly four years later, Hamilton is a junior forward with Maryland’s basketball program after spending two years at Boston College. The former four-star recruit posted 9.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore with the Eagles, and through five games in a Maryland uniform, he’s averaging 8.6 points and 4.2 boards.
Hamilton, a Charlotte, N.C., native, actually spent his middle school years in the state of Maryland when his father moved the family to serve as a minister in the D.C. area. The Hamiltons lived in Hyattsville, Md., and then Baltimore as older brother Jared played at DeMatha and then St. Frances. After Jared graduated high school in 2014, the family moved back to Charlotte, and Jairus played one season for Legacy Charter School in Greenville, S.C., before beginning his three-year run at Cannon as a sophomore.
After developing into a star with the Cougars, Hamilton was the No. 75 overall recruit in the 2018 class, per 247Sports’ Composite rankings. He drew offers from Maryland, Kansas, Stanford and NC State, among nearly two dozen others. But on Jan. 11, 2018 — his 18th birthday — Hamilton committed to Boston College. It’s an unorthodox choice for a blue-chip prospect; he became the program’s first top-100 signee in 16 years. This decision, though, was all about family.
Jairus and Jared Hamilton have been close their whole lives but had never played on the same team due to a four-year age difference. With Jared playing a prep year in 2014-15 and sitting out as a transfer from Jacksonville State to Georgia Southern in 2016-17, though, the brothers’ college careers would overlap for two years. Jared, a guard, transferred to Boston College just days before Jairus announced his commitment, and they played their first game together on Dec. 22, 2018.
“It was a blessing from the Lord,” their father, Bill Hamilton, said. “Being four years apart, that they could play together in the ACC was a miracle.”
The brothers didn’t find consistent success in Chestnut Hill, Mass. — the Eagles went 14-17 and 13-19 in Jairus’ two seasons — but they had their moments. Jairus dropped a career-high 23 points in a win at Virginia Tech on Jan. 25, 2020, while Jared scored 18 and hit the tying and winning free throws at North Carolina Feb. 1. Jared also hit a late go-ahead three from the corner during BC’s win against Virginia Jan. 7.
“Just to come together and play in college for a couple years together was great,” Jairus said. “Seeing him hit the game-winners against Virginia and North Carolina, being on the court with him — just moments I’ll always remember for the rest of my life.”
The Hamiltons’ last game together at Boston College was an 80-58 loss to Notre Dame in the second round of the ACC tournament March 11. The next day, everything shut down. The NCAA Tournament was canceled March 12. The Eagles weren’t making that field, but the chance at any more games was out the window.
With the season over and Jared out of eligibility, Jairus opted to enter the transfer portal in late March. He knew he wanted to move closer to home with some medical issues affecting the family. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon — who was heavily involved in Hamilton’s initial recruitment — reached out to Hamilton within a couple of days, and he committed to the Terps April 1.
“He loves the coaching staff, he loves being challenged, he loves playing against the best competition in practice so he can get better,” Bill Hamilton said. “So I see this being the best situation that God could have put him in because it’s challenging him, it’s making him better and he’s surrounded by a coaching staff that really believes in him.”
NCAA rules require basketball transfers to sit out a year unless a waiver gets approved, and that process can drag on for months. Hamilton’s situation wasn’t resolved until Oct. 27; his waiver was reportedly denied twice before it was finally approved. Turgeon broke the news to the team at the end of practice that afternoon, and Hamilton’s teammates mobbed him as he beamed.
“I felt a lot of relief because I didn’t really know what was going to happen and the season was approaching,” Hamilton said. “Definitely hearing that gave me a lot of relief and a lot of joy that I’m actually going to be able to work with these guys. All the time that we put in this summer and again in the fall … I’m actually going to be able to put some work in with these guys on the court and suit up with them.”
Early in the season, Hamilton platooned with sophomore Donta Scott at power forward, and the duo is already emerging as a viable frontcourt pairing. Hamilton, who played mainly on the wing at Boston College, functioned as a center for the final 8:37 against Mount St. Mary’s Nov. 29 as Maryland went on a 21-0 run down the stretch. It remains to be seen whether he can hold his own as a five in a physical Big Ten, but his ability to do so would give the Terps an added dimension.
“Yeah, I definitely could [play center if needed],” Hamilton said. “If that’s how we’re going to get the W … I’m trying to get the W.”
Hamilton is part of an experienced but unproven core at Maryland. The Terps’ opening-day starting lineup included three juniors and two seniors, but nobody on the roster has averaged more than 10.4 points during a college season. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound transfer brings plenty of physicality and explosiveness, but it remains to be seen if he can provide consistent production.
Whatever happens to the Terps in this crazy 2020-21 season, Hamilton’s family and friends in Charlotte will be watching. He left a legacy at Cannon that will see him inducted into the Cougars’ Hall of Fame when he’s first eligible in 2023. And he has plenty of fans hoping he can leave a legacy in College Park.
“My son’s favorite player is Jairus Hamilton,” said Roth, the coach at Cannon. “My son is 10 and … every time he gets a chance to play, I can see his mind thinking about watching our players play, and when his buddies come over, a lot of guys are LeBron and Kobe. My son Cash is Jairus. That’s the kind of impact he’s made.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Originally published Dec. 16, 2020