"I don't want to have happen what happened to me last year," said Jordan Hamilton. "I want to be able to get on the court."
And in order to get on the court, Hamilton had to dedicate himself to basketball this summer. He had to give up the fancy trips to Las Vegas, Miami, California, and all the other places that his peers travel.
"I figured my vacation would be in the gym, getting better every single day," Hamilton said. "I want to be in here, working hard."
And "here" is Denver, where Hamilton has stayed since the 2011-12 season ended. Jordan has been improving his game on the floor by, in part, changing his body off of it.
"We're trying to recreate his foundation," said Nuggets trainer Steve Hess.
The old foundation was one that Nuggets head coach George Karl referred to as a "pudgy body". Karl, a coach who likes to strike a certain kind of fear into his players, remembered a time when he uttered similar words to a former rookie, turned All-Star.
"I remember saying the same words to Michael Redd when I was in Milwaukee," Karl said. "I said to Michael, I'm not going to talk to you until I see you with your shirt off and you look like you know what you're doing."
Redd only appeared in six games for the Bucks in his rookie season. In those six games, he only averaged 5.8 minutes and 2.2 points. Likely statistics for a middle-of-the-road second-round pick, but Karl saw something in Redd that led him to believe he could be more.
"Michael, I think he played 50 minutes his first year," said Karl. "But we knew in that year that he'd be playing for us the next year."
And sure enough, Redd turned in a surprising sophomore season for the Bucks. He appeared in 67 games, played roughly four times as many minutes per game with 21.1, scored 11.4 points per game, and shot 44% from three-point land (with 3.0 attempts per game). Three seasons after his rookie campaign, Redd made the All-Star team and was on his way to a fine career (stunted by injuries since then).
Like Redd, Hamilton didn't see much playing time as a rookie. "We like to look at him as a red-shirt, like college," said Nuggets assistant coach Melvin Hunt. "He was doing an independent study on NBA basketball this year."
A star player at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, and a major scoring threat at the University of Texas - Hamilton wasn't accustomed to sitting on the bench. "It was tough for me, but I got to see basketball from a different angle. I learned a lot, watching guys with different moves and things like that."
In the 2011 draft, Hamilton was the No. 26 pick of the Dallas Mavericks and was traded to the Nuggets as part of a three-team deal involving Raymond Felton and Andre Miller. Some would consider a late first-round pick to be a throw in, but in Hamilton's case that isn't true. He was once a Top 15 high school recruit and after his time at Texas, he was slated to be a mid first-round pick. But rumors swirled that Hamilton could be difficult to coach and and a result he dropped in the draft. If he was going to be troublesome, it would be evident during his extended time on the Nuggets' bench.
"He was great," said Hunt. "It's funny, we're in a tightly contested series with the Lakers (in the 2012 playoffs) and we were still coaching him. He was not our focus at that time, but during the course of the game you would see a coach whisper in his ear or he would whisper in a coach's ear. He was watching certain players, how they were able to get free. He was watching some of their mistakes."
Hamilton did see some time on the floor as a rookie and he got a few chances to show that what he was learning was paying off both on the bench and in practice. Like the night of Feb. 22nd when he scored 18 points in Los Angeles, his hometown, against the Clippers. The Nuggets lost that game 103-95, but Hamilton's 6-11 shooting performance (4-5 from downtown) almost brought his team back. But with success comes learning experiences. The next night in Denver (Feb. 23rd), Hamilton played 27 minutes and missed on all seven of his shot attempts.
Hamilton wanted badly to be on the court, like fellow rookie Kenneth Faried. However, veteran Corey Brewer helped keep Hamilton glued to the bench. Karl trusted Brewer and needed guys he could count on, as the Nuggets were in a playoff push. So, how could Hamilton get on the court? He not only needed to gain the confidence of his coach; he needed to dedicate himself to being a professional in the NBA.
So, as Hamilton said, his vacation would be staying in Denver. He would work with Steve Hess in the mornings to sculpt his body, and after that, he'd turn himself over to the coaches and run countless drills on the basketball court.
"I come in every day around 8:00 a.m. until about 9:30 a.m. (with Steve Hess) and after that I work on basketball from about 9:30 a.m. until about 11:00 a.m.; I'm in here for awhile," said Hamilton.
So, what's a summer program with Hess like? Who better to explain it than the man himself!
"We're trying to get his aerobic fitness powered up and we're trying to get his anaerobic powered up as well," said Hess. "We want to work on all the different components of fitness, and because we have an extended period over the summer we're able to do that systematically. We're attacking every different system he has. For example: it's not just strength training, it's not just flexibility, it's not just explosive power, and it's not just aerobic training. It's a combination of the whole thing."
"So we do things like take him up to Red Rocks (Amphitheatre). We'll do yoga, we'll do pool work for recovery, we'll do sprint work, we'll do sled pushing and a ton of different things," said Hess.
That could get you tired from just reading about it. The temptation to skip a workout has to be on Hamilton's mind.
"He (Hamilton) hasn't missed one workout," said Hess. "He pre-prepares which is a big thing for me. When guys come in pre-prepared, they know we're going to go to work; it makes my job a thousand-percent easier. He has taken an incredibly professional role in how we're going to get this done."
And the results are stunning. "His body has changed, it's amazing to see," said Hunt.
"You got this dude lifting up his shirt and he's like, ‘Yo, I can see two abs,' when before he had a keg," said Hess. "His body fat is down to nine-percent from 13-percent and he's dropped down from 240 pounds to about 229 pounds. His standing jump is going up, his vertical is going up, his agility, and everything we've tested is slowly improving."
The potential rookies that came to Denver, for workouts leading up to the NBA draft, did not carry themselves with the confidence that Hamilton possesses. Yes, they were in an unfamiliar place and among unfamiliar faces, but they looked like children in comparison with Hamilton. His confidence has risen as his body and game have been maturing. Physically, he looks like an UFC fighter who plays basketball. Hamilton drains jumpers on the practice court with ease, his release quick and his shooting mechanics always the same.
The Nuggets opened their practice gym doors to a few former collegiate players hoping to catch on with teams overseas next season. Hamilton shared half the court with them as they participated in the same shooting drills. One former collegiate player came off a screen, received the pass from a coach, and launched his jumper ... too long and off the back of the rim. Hamilton's turn, he glides through the same drill and he sank the shot with ease.
"Every day it's repetition. I'm tightening up my jumper, mid-range game, and getting to the basket. Coach wants guys to be able to stretch the floor," Hamilton said. "I think that me, (Arron) Afflalo, Ty (Lawson), (Danilo) Gallinari, all these guys - we can all shoot the ball, we can definitely spread the defenses."
Hamilton said, though his mechanics haven't changed, that he has been watching film on Ray Allen. He is trying to learn how the veteran sharp-shooter is able to get his shots off so quickly and maintain such high accuracy. Hunt said they also have him watching film on Oklahoma City's James Harden, as they believe he, too, can attack the rim.
When asked if he has been chatting with other NBA shooters for advice, Hamilton said, "I mainly watch film. I'm a visual guy, so when I see somebody do something I'm going to try to copy it. I'm just going to come in for hours at a time and work on that."
Hamilton is preparing for a larger role in the upcoming 2012-13 season with the Nuggets. He has been putting in the time, the "sweat-equity" as Hunt calls it, to get himself ready physically and mentally. There isn't a lot of room on the Nuggets' roster to add new faces and Karl has been calling Hamilton the team's first round pick.
But Hamilton is a "first-round pick" with a chance to be a part of the regular rotation. Karl has been fond of the former rookie for quite some time. "Coach (Karl) has some big time confidence in this guy; we put him in games and ran a play for him," Hunt said. "How many rookies this year had plays run for them, other than Kyrie Irving and a couple of others?"
Always looking to motivate, Karl was more tight-lipped on his plans for Hamilton next season. "I'm not quite there to say Jordan will play for us next year, but we're excited about him," said Karl. Some may see that as a damning statement of Karl's refusal to turn his team over to younger players, but Hamilton is hopeful his hard work will pay off.
"Wherever I fit in, I'll come off the bench, whatever Coach (Karl) needs me to do," said Hamilton. "I said this year (2011-12) I was one of the better shooters on the team, but next year I plan on taking on a better role as being a better basketball player. I definitely learned a lot from last year."
And as much as Hamilton needs his place with the Denver Nuggets, it's the Nuggets' team that also needs Hamilton. There will be minutes available on the wing for Karl's squad. A scorer and consistent shooter are what Karl has been begging for, to anyone who will listen. Hamilton has put in the work to be Karl's answer - both a scorer and a consistent shooter.
"The summer time is a time when you overhaul a guy," said Hunt. "You break him down and you rebuild him."
Hamilton, with the help of the training staff and coaching staff, has been rebuilt. And he's ready to show the NBA world what all of his hard work has done for his game.
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