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Tommy Hamilton Jr. spent his first three years playing for Young before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida. | AP
Tommy Hamilton Jr.’s high school career didn’t go as he planned. He didn’t wind up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He didn’t play in the McDonald’s All-American game. Those honors went to the kid he grew up with, his “brother” Jabari Parker.
Four years ago, it was even money on which player would enjoy that success. So why was it Parker and not Hamilton?
“[Parker] had two parents in his household,” Hamilton’s mother LaTanya Floyd said. “I’m a working parent and you can only do so much for your child. I couldn’t go to every game.”
There isn’t a drop of bitterness in Floyd’s voice, or Hamilton’s, when they talk about Parker. Hamilton had his journey to college, which ended this week when he signed with DePaul, and Parker had his.
“I’m just glad my child wasn’t lost to the streets,” Floyd said. “I’m happy he is going to go to college and be something. Both children have been blessed and that makes me so happy. I just want all the kids to be successful.”
“[Parker] and I talk a lot,” Hamilton said. “That’s my brother, literally. We have been friends since second grade and played together since sixth grade. He’s worked for everything he’s got. I’m really happy for him.”
Hamilton’s high school career began with an albatross around his neck. The memory of his talented father and namesake, Thomas Hamilton, is still strong in the city.
Hamilton Sr. was a 7-2 force of nature while leading King to a state championship in 1993. He never played college basketball, but had an 11-game stint with the Boston Celtics in 1996.
The last time anyone remembers seeing Hamilton Sr. on a basketball court was during Michael Jordan’s comeback attempt in 2001. Hamilton was spotted at Hoops the Gym on the West Side, playing with Michael Jordan, Antoine Walker, Charles Barkley, former King star Leon Smith and Eddy Curry, who had just graduated from Thornwood.
Hamilton Sr. wasn’t a factor in his son’s life. Tommy Hamilton Jr. was raised by Floyd.
“We just dealt with [the comparisons to his father] day by day,” Floyd said. “He may have the same name as his father but that isn’t who he is. He doesn’t have the same personality at all. He may play basketball the same way and that’s what reminds some people of his father. He is a happy and well-adjusted kid, because that is how the household he grew up in was.”
Hamilton Jr. played at Young for the first three years of his high school career. It was both revelatory and frustrating. He showed flashes of brilliance his freshman and sophomore seasons, but missed almost his entire junior year with an injury.
“Honestly it wasn’t frustrating,” Hamilton said. “God gives people battles. I had my mom with me. I kept working at it. I just accepted things.”
Hamilton, a 6-9 center with solid perimeter shooting and passing skills, left Chicago and spent his senior year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The basketball prodigy says he regained his focus, lost weight and matured there.
“It’s like laid back [at IMG], private kind of,” Hamilton said. “I like that. Everybody at the school is an athlete. You have people driving and pushing you all around you. On the court and off the court. It’s private and discrete down here. That’s something I needed at the time. I grew up, I’m ready to get back to Chicago.”
Freshman and sophomore year, Hamilton was on the radar of all the major colleges in the country. Most of those schools disappeared over the past two years, but DePaul has a been a constant.
“They were with me when I was ‘up there’ and they have been with me when I’m down and stood with me through everything,” Hamilton said. “The staff just believed in me, they were all in for me. That’s what stood out.”
DePaul coach Oliver Purnell has a win-win situation on his hands with Hamilton. Maybe the enigmatic star finally figures it out. Even if he doesn’t, the local basketball community will appreciate that it was Purnell that stuck with Hamilton and gave him a shot.
Hamilton is well-liked around the city, both for his personality and the way he’s handled his difficult lineage. He bears an uncanny facial resemblance to his father, a constant reminder of another one of Chicago’s lost basketball heroes.
He’ll return to Chicago in June, and it’s a long shot — he still has a way to go to become the player so many people believed he could be — but what would be sweeter than Thomas Hamilton Jr., the son of a city legend, leading DePaul back to relevance?