Georgia State has not made the NCAA tourney in more than a decade, but after winning 25 games last season they were on the doorstep before a heartbreaking one point overtime loss in the Sun Belt tourney title game. They bring back one of the best backcourts in the country in Ryan Harrow/RJ Hunter, but the best guard in school history now roams the sidelines a few hours away in Tennessee. Rodney Hamilton was a star player for the Panthers back in the 1990s, and was good enough for the school to retire his number. After a pro career overseas he has spent several years as an assistant coach at various schools: this year he will be a trusted assistant for new Tennessee State head coach Dana Ford. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Rodney about dominating the Atlantic Sun Conference despite standing only 5’9″.
Why did you choose to attend Georgia State? I chose Georgia State because it was located in the city of Atlanta. Basketball was the primary sport on campus during the 1990s, and I had the opportunity to come in as a freshman and compete immediately for the starting PG position.
In December 1996 you had a career-high six blocks in a loss at Winthrop: how on earth does a 5’9” guy who is the best point guard in school history block six shots in a game?! As a PG I never thought about blocking shots so when those happened I was as shocked as anyone else. I just ended up being in the right position at the right time. I was able to hide behind the taller guys and sneak up behind them and block more than a few that night. I felt like I was 6’9” that game!
In January 1996 you had a career-high 14 assists in a seven point win over FIU: was it a case of your teammates just making all their shots, or was your defense just creating easy shots on offense, or other? That night was something that a PG dreams about. My teammates were knocking down shots and making me look like I was the best PG ever! I would like to think that my quickness and ability to beat people off the dribble was the reason…but they do not count as assists unless your teammates make shots, so thanks to my teammates! By then my good friend and 2-guard Shellord Pinkett was a knock-down shooter.
In November 1997 you had a career-high seven steals in a loss at Georgetown: was it extra-special to set a career-high against a big-time program like the Hoyas? That was extra special because as a player you go into a game against a big-time program coached by John Thompson saying to yourself that you are going to show up/show out to let them know that we are just as good as you are. I felt like I had an impact in that game and it was great to end up with a career-high versus the Hoyas. When I met Coach Thompson again I told him that I had a career-high in steals against his team. Not that it mattered to him, but it felt good to accomplish that against a Big East team like the Hoyas.
You were a 2-time All-Atlantic Sun performer: how did you make the leap from your sophomore year, and how were you able to continue to dominate throughout the rest of your college career? Making All-Conference came from continuing to work and add to my game each year from my freshman year to my senior year. I always felt that I had to be able to do something different each year. Whatever I was good at I felt that I had to be even better and improve myself.
You were the 1st Georgia State player to have his number retired: what did it mean to you to have such an outstanding honor bestowed upon you? Being the first player to have his jersey retired was something that I never imagined would happen in 100 years. Words can not describe how proud I was. I felt like everything that I did to be the best player possible for Georgia State came back to me tenfold.
After graduation you played professionally for three years in Sweden, Switzerland, and Hungary: what did you learn from this experience, and how did it compare to college basketball? Playing professionally allowed me to learn the business aspect of the game. It was totally different from college: it was about producing as a player on the professional level. In college, if you did not pan out as well as the coaches had hoped you still got opportunities to be a part of things. When you are playing overseas, if you did not produce you could lose your job. During my 2nd season I had 4 different teammates rotating onto and off our roster as 1 guy was leaving and a new 1 was coming in to replace him every couple of months.
After retiring you spent two years as an assistant coach for NAIA Crichton College: what did you learn from the experience, and how did it compare to D-1 basketball? After retiring due to an injury I started coaching on the HS level and spent 4 years at Westside HS in my hometown of Memphis, TN. I got a chance to move up to the college level at Crichton in Memphis for a couple of years. Getting to coach in the NAIA national tourney and making it to the Elite 8 compared quite favorably to D-1: it has just as much passion, pride, and excitement.
After that you spent 2 years as an assistant coach for SE Missouri State: do you aspire to be an assistant at a big-time program, or a head coach at a smaller program, or something else? After spending time in the OVC I became head women’s coach at Indiana Tech (an NAIA school in Fort Wayne). I aspire to continue to get better as a coach and eventually move up in the coaching field.
When people look back on your career, what do you want them to remember the most? I hope that they would say that every time he stepped on the floor he played hard, played with passion, and left everything on the floor night in and night out. Now that I am a coach hopefully they will say that about my team, since people say that teams take on the characteristics of the head coach.