North Texas Daily

Despite rough transitions, Hamlet aspires to be lead guard for the men’s basketball

Despite rough transitions, Hamlet aspires to be lead guard for the men’s basketball

Despite rough transitions, Hamlet aspires to be lead guard for the men’s basketball
February 19
12:30 2020

In the offseason of 2019, head coach Grant McCasland sought out a player that could potentially fill the role of former guard Ryan Woolridge — who decided to transfer to Gonzaga. McCasland needed a guard who could replicate Woolridge’s ability to be the engine for the men’s basketball teams’ offense and defense. Now in his third year as the head coach, McCasland found a player that matched that description in redshirt junior guard Javion Hamlet.

So far this season he’s been awarded Conference USA Player of the Week and currently is the conference leader in assists (72), assists per game (5.2) and assist/turnover ratio (2.7). He’s also been a clutch free throw shooter, hitting 90.7 percent of his shots at the foul line in conference play.

With the way Hamlet has been playing, his teammates have compared the first-year North Texas point guard to some current NBA players. 

“He has a Mike Conley floater, a Kyrie[Irving] handle, with a good midrange…a player who’ll knock the shot down and get to the rack and get fouled so I’ll give him a mix of those two,” junior guard James Reese said.

Head coach Grant McCasland gave his input as well when it came to NBA comparisons.

 “I think he’s kind of got a combo of multiple guys,” McCasland said. “I mean, you look at different guys that can actually make the jump to an NBA league and he’s kind of got a Fred Van Fleet and that slashing ability like Jalen Brunson who just has that impact where he’s a winner.”

 Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Hamlet recognized his parents’ struggles and understood that they did their best to keep it from affecting him negatively. It did not help that he was raised around a tough environment.

“Just growing up in Memphis, it’s hard. Not too many people make it out, especially where I’m from,” Hamlet said. “I’ve seen some of my friends get locked up for murder charges. I’ve seen others get killed.”

To get through it, Hamlet discovered basketball as an outlet. His father bought him a goal when he was two years old and Hamlet never stopped shooting on it. When Hamlet turned five, his father put him in YMCA basketball and he immediately found his love for the game.

“I always stay focused on what I needed to do playing basketball because it was something that made me happy … it’s really like my happy place,” Hamlet said.

For Hamlet, he was never close to choosing a criminal lifestyle because he had a strong support system from his parents who made sure to keep him on the right path. It was made clear once basketball became a part of it.

“My mom and dad always kept me grounded,” Hamlet said. “I had so many cousins and them either gangbanging, in jail and just doing stuff that was part of our environment. But I just chose a different route and it’s really a God-given talent that He blessed me with basketball because this was my only way out.”

Coming out of Whitehaven High School, Hamlet did not have Division I offers. His dad tried convincing him to go to LeMoyne-Owen College, a historically black college in his hometown. When Hamlet was growing up, he and his friends used to make fun of the college, saying that it was for “sorry” basketball players. But Hamlet realized that the players there were just in difficult positions like he had been in. 

Hamlet took a recruiting trip to LeMoyne-Owen and was close to signing there until he was offered a scholarship by Motlow State College. He ultimately chose the latter as it helped him get a better chance at a Division I offer.

“Just getting that call from Motlow really saved me and changed my life,” Hamlet said. “I always dreamed about playing division one basketball, and I was fortunate to go to JUCO and get recruited by some of the top schools in the country.”

Hamlet called the JUCO living experience difficult, especially at Motlow where there were only three bedrooms and two baths for 17 people. It was nothing new for Hamlet since he was raised with his mom, grandma, aunties and little cousins in a three-bedroom house.

“You can never take anything for granted. We had to grind,” Hamlet said. “At Motlow, there were 17 people in one house with rats and roaches. Coach McCasland and them will tell you that it’s probably the worst living condition they’ve ever seen and now I’ve got my own apartment.”

While at Motlow, Hamlet was an NJCAA Second-Team All-American, leading his team with 15.6 points and the nation with 8.5 assists. In October 2017, Hamlet committed to the University of Buffalo, where he befriended his now-fellow starting guard James Reese. Hamlet spent a few weeks at Buffalo before leaving.

During the 2018-2019 season, Hamlet enrolled at Northwest Florida State College. He was named the Panhandle Conference Newcomer of the Year, averaging 17.8 points to go along with 6.5 assists.

When the recruiting cycle came around again, Hamlet and Reese remained in contact to play together at their next destination. On April 28, 2019, both players announced their intentions to join North Texas.

“It’s crazy because while we were at Buffalo, I was thinking about transferring,” Reese said. “Javion and I were talking and once I got this offer in junior college, me and him were like ‘lets link back up and play together’ because me and him were on the scout team at Buffalo together. So me and him just kind of hopped on. Both of us were like ‘let’s come here and finish it out together.’”

During Hamlet’s recruitment process, he liked the approach the coaching staff had for him. They didn’t pitch him on lies and told him whatever he wanted, he had to work for it. The staff was also consistent with checking on him and his family every day while ensuring that he could be an important part of the puzzle moving forward.

For McCasland, he was getting a player who had not lost since his high school playing days. That’s because Hamlet was taught by his coaches at an early age that nobody liked losers or people trying for their own success. With this mindset, Hamlet saw his winning mentality and McCasland’s winning nature as a perfect match.

“Coach McCasland pushed me each and every day,” Hamlet said. “At the beginning of the season, I was overthinking and didn’t know what he wanted from me but I realized all he really wanted was for me to run the team. Point guards get judged on winning and we just want to win so bad and that’s how I feel like we connect.”

Throughout the year at North Texas, Hamlet had to adjust and he went through some struggles early, but the way he picked himself up was always a huge bright spot on his teammates.

“He’s tough,” Reese said. “I’ve seen Coach McCasland get on him every day from the start of the summer until now and he still comes with great energy, wants to learn, takes to coaching and is getting better every day.”

Since conference play started, Hamlet has been averaging 17.3 points which is good for fifth in conference. He recorded 13 points and 10 assists with zero turnovers in the team’s first win at Southern Mississippi since 1971. He then followed that up with a game-winning floater against Louisiana Tech, which happened to be the team’s first win in Ruston since 1952. In his next three games, he recorded zero turnovers.

“He’s always in the gym hungry,” redshirt sophomore guard Umoja Gibson said. “You can see it in his eyes every time he’s on the court, he’s ready to compete. He was a competitor as soon as he stepped on campus.”

Reese thinks Hamlet’s ball security inspired his teammates to do the same.

“It speaks a lot because, at the beginning of the season, a lot of people were saying that we weren’t taking care of the ball,” Reese said. “[Hamlet]’s one of those guys who makes sure the job gets done so he made it a priority to not turn the ball over.” 

Despite these numbers, one of the things that’s impressed McCasland has been his improved play on the defensive end.

“He’s made huge strides and he’s a guy that we can count on to not only be a good defender but we can put him on the other teams’ better players,” McCasland said. “Where before we were trying to figure out how to position him to keep him on the floor. Now we can put him on other teams’ better players and he can impact winning defensively. Everybody wants to talk about his assist-to-turnover ratio and I think that part was going to come no matter what, but what he’s done defensively has really changed our program.”

Hamlet said the trust has been a big key in pushing him forward. He loves the trust he’s received from his coaching staff and teammates. 

“I love all my teammates … they’re like my brothers for real because we’re all so close,” Hamlet said. “I’ve never been on a team where everybody’s cool with everybody.”

As North Texas continues going deeper into conference play, Hamlet aspires to maintain his level of play while still improving. In hopes to not only lead his team to a conference title but to the NCAA tournament as well.

One thing Hamlet continuously does is think about where he is from and where he hopes to go.

“I’ve been through the struggle and I know how the struggle is, and to this day, my family is still struggling,” Hamlet said. “Hopefully one day I’m in a position where I can tell my mom and my family that we never have to worry about anything again.”

Featured Image: Redshirt junior guard Javion Hamlet shoots a three-pointer in practice on Feb. 18, 2020. Image Zachary Thomas

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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