Saint Francis prolific scorer Hamilton mourned
When he graduated from Saint Francis in 1985, there was only one player with more career points than Jeff Hamilton.
That player was the legendary Maurice Stokes.
“He could do it all,” former Red Flash standout Kevin Porter, who coached Hamilton in Loretto from 1983-85, said Friday.
Porter reacted with a heavy heart upon learning that Saint Francis lost one of its all-time greats last month.
“I was very shocked, and I’m still shocked,” Porter said.
Hamilton, whose 1,810 career points rank third all-time behind Joe Anderson (2,301) and Stokes (2,282; Anderson passed Stokes in 1991), died last month of brain cancer, his father said. He was 55.
Hamilton succumbed to the disease on Nov. 19 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia.
“He didn’t seem to know he was slowing up, but we noticed something was wrong,” said Jeff’s father, Jesse Hamilton, of Washington. “He was cutting my grass one day, and I said to him, ‘Jeffrey, you should go to the doctor.’ He just seemed to be getting so weak.”
Hamilton leaves behind his parents, Jesse and Matlyn Hamilton, five children and numerous grandchildren. A funeral service was held on Nov. 30 in Forestville, Md.
Known as “Sugar” to his teammates and friends, Hamilton attended Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, Md., for three years before transferring to Washington’s Spingarn High School for his senior season.
As a senior, he averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds to earn first-team all-Metropolitan honors by The Washington Post.
Hamilton was recruited to Saint Francis in 1981 by Dave Magarity, who coached the Flash from 1978-83.
“I give Dave Magarity a lot of credit for recruiting the class that Jeff was a part of,” Porter said. “There were some very good ballplayers in that group.”
Magarity recalled Hamilton as a diamond in the class that followed a group led by familiar names such as Bob Convey, Joe Schoen and Charlie Kates.
“He was a heckuva player,” Magarity said. “Undersized, but a really tough kid who could score in bunches. He was a good kid, and I really appreciated the way he played the game.”
“Other than Maurice Stokes and Norm Van Lier, he probably was the best all-around player ever at Saint Francis,” said Porter, refusing to mention himself, even though he ranks fourth in scoring, just behind Hamilton, with 1,766 career points.
Coaches and teammates of Hamilton expressed grief as news spread of his death.
Former assistant Jeff Nix, who served under Magarity and Porter at Saint Francis and has had a long NBA career, called Hamilton “a hard worker, a tough-as-nails guy who had a great knack for finding his way through seems.”
Altoona’s Lou Schmitt, who holds the Saint Francis record for field-goal percentage in a season (71.4 in 1982-83), remembered Hamilton as “a good teammate who had a heart of gold.”
“Jeff was 6-4, and that probably was the biggest drawback for him on the court,” Schmitt said. “If he had been 2-3 inches taller, he very likely could have been playing in the NBA. I think he was quite disappointed when he didn’t get drafted.”
Hamilton, who worked as a bus driver in Washington’s public transit system, finished his college career with a scoring average of 16.5 per game.
“He was a terrific athlete, a terrific basketball player,” said Jim Conway, who was part of Magarity’s same recruiting class along with Napoleon Lightning. “What I remember about Jeff was how tough and strong of a kid he was.”
Greg Jacobs, who ranks ninth all-time in scoring at Saint Francis, called Hamilton a “tenacious and unstoppable player.”
“He was known as a scorer with no fear,” Jacobs said.
Hamilton’s father fondly recalls making the trip to Loretto to see his son play.
“I remember going up there to Saint Francis,” said Jesse Hamilton, who, at 83, remains sharp. “We’d stay over in Ebensburg. We watched a lot of basketball at Saint Francis, and when I could, I’d try to listen to them on the radio. I could sometimes pick up the games.”
Current Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel issued a statement of condolence on the school’s website.
“We are saddened to hear of the passing of one of the all-time greats in our program’s history,” he said. “The tradition at Saint Francis is well-documented, and Jeff firmly cemented himself as one of the best to ever play in Loretto during his four years. Our team and the Saint Francis community will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers.”