Rising to the top: Blake Hamilton slowly cementing himself as one of the best Buffalo has to offer
It’s no secret the Buffalo men’s basketball team has been reconfigured from its championship-caliber team from last season.
And not much has gone right for the Bulls (11-9, 4-3 Mid-American Conference) this season compared to last year. Returning starters, short or long, have spent time on the injured list. Some of the key sharpshooting recruits aren’t panning out to what they’re supposed to be.
But that’s not the case for one junior college transfer transfer. Junior Blake Hamilton – a wing by trade – has played multiple positions on the floor and considers himself a matchup nightmare.
And as he continues to add to his arsenal of skills – he may be the best thing to happen to the Bulls this season and could very well lead the group back to contention in Cleveland, Ohio this March.
“I just feel like my role has been a little bit bigger – there’s more need for me to score and rebound and do different things,” Hamilton said. “I’m totally capable of doing that.”
His first opportunity to prove his athleticism, versatility and speed to the team was in a matchup against Central Michigan (10-9, 3-3 MAC) on Jan. 16. Sophomore guard Lamonte Bearden went down with a foot injury a week earlier and forced head coach Nate to change up the rotation to appease the point guard position. Senior Jarryn Skeete reverted back to his point guard days and junior wing Willie Conner primarily played the two.
And Hamilton was given an opportunity he wanted all season: play two different positions.
“I feel like I’m a walking mismatch,” Hamilton said. “I’m a big guard, so if there’s a smaller person guarding me, I’ll take it to the basket. When I play stretch four, those players won’t be able to keep up with me.”
Against the Chippewas, Hamilton put up 14 points, three assists and a team-high nine rebounds in a 74-61 victory.
Since then, he has continuously proven he’s not a fluke.
In his last three games, Hamilton has averaged just less than 16 points per game, more than eight rebounds and three assists.He was Buffalo’s only spark during last Saturday’s 91-71 loss to Western Michigan (8-11, 2-4 MAC).
But head coach Nate Oats has been more impressed with Hamilton’s defensive efficiency. Hamilton is learning to crash the boards on offense and defense. In his last four games, Hamilton is close to averaging a double-double.
Most importantly, his presence on the court allows him to guard players with multiple skill sets. He’s tall enough to cover forwards and fast enough to cover guards.
“I think his numbers were good, obviously,” Oats said of Hamilton’s defensive play as of late. “But if you looked at his defensive effort, he really played hard.”
And he’s only getting better.
His scoring has increased, his rebounding has become more aggressive and he has turned the ball over less by a small margin. Among players who have taken more than 15 three-point shots per game, Hamilton leads the team at 37.9 percent.
“I noticed my jumper has gotten better from three-point range,” Hamilton said. “That opens up by inside game. I prefer to go to the basket, but if I’m hitting my three’s, it makes me more of a threat.”
And at this point, it doesn’t matter how the threat is posed. If Buffalo’s hottest player continues, a championship may be closer than many would expect.