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Rip Hamilton: UConn Got 'Bamboozled' in 1998, and That's a Good Thing

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UConn's second-leading scorer in school history talks UConn, his basketball career and his current endeavors.

UConn legend Richard Hamilton has never stayed far away from the program he led to a national championship in 1999.
UConn legend Richard Hamilton has never stayed far away from the program he led to a national championship in 1999.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

UConn fans cannot help themselves. Whenever they hear the name Richard "Rip" Hamilton, they have to yell it.

"Hamilton! HAMILTON!"

That, of course, is Sean McDonough's famous call from the 1998 Sweet 16, when Hamilton's fadeaway effort beat Washington at the buzzer, sending our Huskies to their fourth Elite Eight. UConn was once again one win away from its first Final Four.

"People talk about that shot more than they talk about us beating Duke," Hamilton said in a phone interview Friday.

We all know the story: Hamilton's famous shot goes in and UConn advances to face North Carolina in the next round.

North Carolina, being the No. 1 seed in the East Region, had the advantage of playing the regional final in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Tar Heels won 75-64, and UConn's run fell one game short of the Final Four once again. Antawn Jamison was the star for UNC that night, scoring 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.

After that game, Hamilton, who finished with 15 points, pointed out North Carolina was the better team. But when he saw Jamison last week while working with NBA TV, Hamilton told the former Golden State Warrior that the Tar Heels got lucky.

"I said you guys got lucky because one, who plays North Carolina, who's the No. 1 seed, in North Carolina in the Elite Eight? So right there alone, we kind of got bamboozled," Hamilton said.

"It was great that we lost that way, because when you're young – I was a sophomore at the time – you really don't understand what it takes to win a championship, especially at the NCAA level, and to lose a heartbreaker like that and then have a majority of the guys come back for the next year, I thought it was great for who we were."

One year later, UConn celebrated its first national championship, beating a Duke team considered to be one of the best college squads ever assembled. They boasted the likes of Elton Brand, Shane Battier, William Avery and Trajan Langdon and were supposed to easily handle any opponent.

Instead, Hamilton led all scorers in the championship game with 27 points, putting the finishing touches on the second-highest career point total in UConn history (2,036). He was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

The first moment from the championship he recalled, however, was Khalid El-Amin running around screaming, "We shocked the world!"

"It was great. It was great for the state of Connecticut," Hamilton said. "It was (Jim) Calhoun's first championship. It was fun, man. I think the greatest part about the whole situation was that I shared it with a great group of guys that, we were just kids. There was no money involved. There was no egos. We just hung out, went to class and came to work every day."

"When you can share [that] with your brothers, especially at 19...it's a great situation."

Hamilton went on to have a solid career in the NBA. The seventh overall pick after his junior season, he spent three years with the Washington Wizards, where he was teammates with Michael Jordan.

Then it was on to Detroit, where he was part of one of the most dominant teams in the league.

Hamilton was part of an amazing lineup, one that included Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Tayshaun Prince. In 2004, that lineup cruised past the Los Angeles Lakers in five games to win the NBA title.

Hamilton was the leading scorer in Game 5 with 21 points.

In 2011, Hamilton moved from the Pistons to the Chicago Bulls, where he spent two seasons. He sat out the 2013-14 season, doing work with NBA TV, but he did not formally retire until this year, making the announcement on ESPN's "His and Hers" on Feb. 26.

"My dream as a kid was always to make it to the NBA and get the opportunity to play against Michael Jordan," Hamilton said. "And me, being in D.C., getting a chance to play with him was a dream come true. That alone – I feel as though I had a storybook career. And to get an opportunity to go to Detroit and win a championship there was unbelievable. I still pinch myself today because I feel as though those types of things don't happen all the time. You look at some of the greatest players that ever played the game, they never got the chance to win a college championship or an NBA championship."

Hamilton has followed the Huskies closely since leaving Storrs. When he was in Dallas for the Final Four in 2014, the star of UConn's first title run got to watch Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright guide the Huskies to the program's fourth championship.

Boatright's career came to an end Wednesday, when the Huskies fell to Arizona State in the NIT. He leaves UConn with 1,786 points, the eighth most in school history, 491 assists (ninth all time) and 199 3-pointers (seventh). Only Hamilton, Chris Smith and Corny Thompson had more games in double figures.

"The sky's the limit for him," Hamilton said. "I think he had a great college career, just like a lot of the great guards that we had come out there. I think now it's up to him to continue to work out, to continue to get ready for these draft workouts. And I think he should be the next (UConn) guard that will be playing in the NBA."

Moving on from his playing career, Hamilton is currently doing promotional work with Gillette Clear Gel. He is in Las Vegas watching the second day of the NCAA tournament with fans at the Ainsworth at the Hard Rock Hotel.

Hamilton is helping to spread the word about Gillette Clear Gel's new product, Undefeated, which helps block odor for 48 hours, which Hamilton loves as a basketball player and father who is always on the go.

"Their new product, Undefeated, is great for me, and it's great for college basketball right now, because it kind of all interacts with each other, because you have to be undefeated to win a championship in any sport and anything that you do."

Speaking of undefeated, Hamilton believes that the heavily favored Kentucky team will fall short this year in the tournament. He is picking Wisconsin. UConn came up short in 1998 before winning in 1999, and Hamilton thinks the time is now for Bo Ryan's team.

Then again, Kentucky is kind of in the same boat.

"Kentucky lost to Connecticut last year, too," Hamilton said, "so it's kind of up in the air."