My select program boasts of three such figures. With an additional major contributor and significant contributor, it should surprise nobody why this program is rolling, especially with six double-digit scorers. And this program is the second-best cover team (11-2-1 through the weekend, an 83.3% rate tied with Grand Canyon) in the country, behind only Drake’s magnificent 13-1 record against the spread.
It’s Eastern Kentucky.
“I’m coaching Eastern Kentucky and I feel like I’m coaching the Boston Celtics,” said third-year coach AW Hamilton. “It feels like a dream come true.”
Those accolades are commendable, but they’re especially poignant since the 40-year-old Hamilton had his world turned upside down this past summer.
He had not undergone a thorough physical examination in 17 years, but assistant coach Steve Lepore’s June stroke prompted Hamilton to see a doctor. A mole behind an ear prompted further testing, with a Stage II melanoma diagnosis.
Lepore having that stroke, Hamilton told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “might have saved my life.” The Mayo Clinic considers melanoma the most serious type of skin cancer. Moreover, a Hamilton cousin had died, at 13, from the malady.
At the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, Dr. Joseph Valentino operated on Hamilton for four hours, removing a cancerous tumor and lymph nodes from his neck, which had no cancerous cells. He and wife Chelsea have three young children, so they treated the good news with immense relief. He installed his “Most Exciting 40 Minutes in Sports” with renewed vigor.
The Colonels’ 80.6 possessions average is second in the country, and they play even faster on the road. They are exceptional in taking care of the ball and swiping it from others, as their 11.4 steals per game lead the nation.
KenPom lists Brandon Knapper (18.3 ppg), Wendell Green Jr. (13.3) and Jomaru Brown (11.8) as Hamilton’s go-to guys. Junior forward Tre King (17.6 ppg, 8 rpg), who has recorded five double-doubles, is the major contributor.
Freshman swingman Curt Lewis (11.1 ppg) is the significant contributor, and sophomore forward Michael Moreno, averaging 10.5 points, rounds out the double-figure sextet.
However, there are two asterisks. Brown, a junior guard, suffered a torn labrum in mid-December but should return soon.
Of more concern is Knapper, a junior guard who transferred from West Virginia, who didn’t play in the Colonels’ first seven games after having a knee scoped. He played in four of five, performing at a high level, but hasn’t played since.
At first, says an East Coast insider, a hamstring tweak put him back on the shelf. But an unspecified off-campus incident has turned into an indefinite suspension, with no timetable for his return.
The Colonels are 0-for-8 in the NCAA Tournament, so erasing that doughnut must be high on Hamilton’s priority list. Games against Ohio Valley titan Belmont (Feb. 11 away, Feb. 25 home) will be critical to conference-tournament seeding.
Then again, that priority list has been altered. Hamilton, who will undergo follow-up CT scans, has vowed to tell his story, to help save someone else’s life.
A video of his ordeal has been viewed nearly 100,000 times. Hundreds of strangers have called and thanked him, tell him he inspired them to get a physical or see a dermatologist.
Helping others has become a mission. Said AW Hamilton, “That’s the impact I want to have.”
Friday, February 5 Games
San Diego State vs. New Mexico, Total 125: The stage is Lubbock, Texas, for what has morphed into the Blitzin’ Aztecs — they’ve tallied 98, 87, 91 and 98 in their previous four games through this past weekend. OVER
Saturday, February 6 Games
UCLA at USC -4, Total 136: KenPom has deigned Iowa’s Luka Garza with 11 Game MVP honors this season, matched by only one person — Trojans 7-foot freshman center Evan Mobley (16.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg). It’s the first game of genuine significance between these two, with both alone in first or second in the league, in 29 seasons. The Trojans’ 40.7% field-goal defense, third in the nation, will be the difference. Expect a slow tempo and many, many elbows. USC and UNDER
TCU at Baylor -21: The Bears lead the country with a 43.4% 3-point touch, which has powered them to triple figures four times, in the 90s twice and in the 80s on five occasions. The Frogs finish in the mid-50s. It’s a TKO by the second TV timeout. BAYLOR
Last week: 2-2