Former Husky guard and current color commentator, Jason Hamilton, was kind enough to sit down with me and talk all things Husky hoops, his playing career and, most importantly, his future on my rec league team.
Paul Somerstein: First of all, I really appreciate you taking some time to talk with me. Let’s start with what you’re doing now, besides announcing, of course.
Jason Hamilton: No problem, happy to do it. Right now I am the President of Richmond Public Relations in Seattle. I double majored in Communications and Political Science – I either wanted to be an attorney or a color commentator. But like most college kids, I wasn’t exactly sure which path I wanted to go down. I interned for Prime Sports Northwest (now ROOT Sports) and really enjoyed it.
PS: So the broadcast route started to present opportunities?
JH: Yes, but when I finished playing, I had a chance to coach at Washington. I took it immediately, but it wasn’t viable long term. I did it for four years and then started to work with a sports marketing company where we dealt with a lot of NBA players. As a young guy in that role I handled a lot of media inquiries, endorsements and foundation relationships, and I became the liaison between the agency and the media – thus spawning the PR career. I spent ten years at Richmond, left for 16 months, and then returned to run the office.
PS: Ok – back to your playing days. You were a local star, but you left to go to San Diego State. Why?
JH: Well, there was a bit of controversy surrounding Washington’s coach at the time, Lynn Nance. It wasn’t the right environment for me and his long term future at Washington wasn’t very secure. It’s not ideal as a player to go somewhere when the coach who recruited you probably won’t be there very long.
PS: So then why San Diego State?
JH: The weather. Anybody from Seattle understands that, right? Seriously though, I had the chance to play right away, and I thought it would be good for me to get away.
PS: You had early success – you won WAC Freshman of the Year. Why did you decide to come home?
JH: Once Bob Bender got hired, he brought an assistant coach with him named Ritchie McKay. He had recruited me previously when he was at another school, and his brother had played football for Washington (Orlando McKay). The new coaching staff made me rethink being away, so I called Coach McKay and asked if they had a spot for me. They did.
PS: But you came in the middle of your sophomore year?
JH: I wanted to transfer after my freshman year, but, ironically, my parents talked me out of it. When I was deciding where to go to school originally, they wanted me home. But when I had success at SDSU, they asked why I would want to leave when things were going well. I went back against my own best judgment and realized I’d made a mistake. I played seven games, and after the fall quarter was over I left for Washington.
PS: No redshirt year?
JH: No, I basically lost my sophomore year. I played too many games, and there was no medical option or hardship that would have warranted a redshirt. That’s how badly I wanted to be at Washington.
PS: So you sat out your sophomore year, and then your junior year it seems like was the beginning of a renaissance for Washington basketball.
JH: There was a major influx of talent during my two years playing. Mark Sanford came in and was an impact guy immediately. Alex Lopez (older brother to Brook and Robin Lopez) was there, Bryant Boston was already on the roster, Todd MacCulloch redshirted. The next year, Donald Watts came in and all of the sudden there was some serious size and athleticism. We were actually in on Jason Terry until the very end, but he obviously ended up at Arizona.
PS: What was it like playing on those teams? UW had been an afterthought in the conference for a decade, and you got to be part of changing the culture.
JH: It all blends together. I went from playing right to coaching. My first year, we were trying to really find ourselves as a team. We still had a rough year, but you could tell that we were about to be part of something pretty special.
PS: A lot like Lorenzo’s first UW team in 2002-2003. All of the pieces were there, but they couldn’t quite put it together
JH: Exactly. My senior year, we did play really well and went to the NIT. But you have to remember, it was a lot different then. First, no Pac-10 tournament, so 20 wins was really a magic number. You didn’t have a chance to add two or three quality wins after the regular season. Second, the Pac-10 was hands down the best conference in the country. UCLA had just won a national title, and Arizona and Stanford were top-10 teams. It was a brutal league.
PS: You guys played tough, though. Going 9-9 with a young team in that league is impressive.
JH: Yeah – but we were on our way to the NCAA Tourney. We even went into Tucson and beat Arizona for the first time in forever. Nobody did that then. All we had to do was beat ASU over the weekend and we’re looking at being ranked. We completely had a letdown. We thought as soon as we tipped off, we won. We got smoked, laid a complete egg. That’s where the lack of maturity and understanding of how to win and not taking things for granted are so important. We took the win in Tucson for granted, thought we were so good and we got shocked. We hit a little tailspin. We obviously recovered and went to the NIT, but it could have been more; it really helped launch that five year period of success.
PS: Best player you played with?
JH: Bryant Boston.
PS: Really? You played with Mark Sanford and Todd MacCulloch.
JH: Mark was a highlight guy, and Todd was freakishly efficient around the rim, but in terms of pure talent and versatility, Bryant was the best. If he was more aggressive he could have scored 20 a night. For his size, the toughness and athleticism were off the charts.
PS: How do you think the 1998 team (Sweet 16 heartbreaker to UCONN) would have differed if Mark Sanford had stayed for his senior season?
JH: That is a great question. On paper, and from a talent standpoint, we would have been a matchup nightmare for people. Todd and Patrick were seven feet tall, Mark was 6’9” and Donald was 6’5”. That team could have been really special. But they don’t play on paper. That team had great chemistry, and you wonder how a guy like Mark would have changed it. Not saying it negatively, but our offense that year was a really effective high/low with Todd and Donald. Mark was a guy who would have been the focal point, so you never know how it would have turned out. On paper though, you love it.
PS: Your first year in the broadcast booth was Coach Romar’s first on the sideline here. What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?
JH: Just the expectations. When he started, just being in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament was enough. When you have sustained success, the expectations are high and the bar is raised. You go from “we want to be relevant,” to “we want to win championships.” Now, 10 years later, we have the same coach and just winning the league title isn’t enough. In the past, people would be jumping up and down. The national perspective has changed – people are shocked if Washington isn’t good.
PS: How lucky are we to hear Bob Rondeau?
JH: (Smirks) He’s the best. Period. I think this city is spoiled in that way. Think about Niehaus and Calabro; legendary voices in their sport. But I’d put Rondeau up there with anybody. There is not a Husky fan in Seattle who doesn’t equate a great Washington sports moment with him. He’s a legend in his own time.
PS: Talk about this year’s team.
JH: I’m optimistic. There is talent coming in. If Washington has guards — especially guards that can defend — they have a chance to be special. On all of the really good Lorenzo Romar teams, his defense has created offense. The average teams have not been great defensively. If they can play fast and create and force turnovers that lead to easy baskets, that changes the dynamic.
PS: How come they haven’t been successful in that regard the past few years?
JH: They haven’t had the depth. Last year I think they went seven deep? You can’t play up-tempo for 40 minutes and expect to have gas left in the tank at the end. If you’re 10 deep like they have been in the past, you can play that style; you can play fast and change the tempo; you have a chance to be successful. I also wonder where the offense is going to come from. You have CJ, but we wonder about Jernard Jarreau, Andrew Andrews and Shawn Kemp Jr. Can they score consistently? But you have to be excited about the new guys coming in.
PS: What about the people who say Romar isn’t the right guy anymore?
JH: I mean – that’s the nature of coaching. People like to complain, it’s the way sports are built. You have this passionate thing about sports that you want to complain when things aren’t going the way you think they should be. In terms of Romar being the right guy, he has taken this program to heights not seen here. He won something like 110 games in a four year period. It’s doesn’t make sense to me; I understand fans are passionate and have opinions and we’re in an age of instant gratification, but this guy has done things for the program and city that haven’t been done before, so I think it’s kind of a joke.
PS: This is probably the most important questions I’ll ask you. Do you want to play on my rec league team?
JH: (Laughs) Uh, no.
PS: One day someone will say yes. Thanks for the time, Jason.
JH: My pleasure.