The McDonald’s All-American game is a terrific event on a lot of levels, but almost annually, it misses one or two kids who, by any reasonable measure, should absolutely be included among the 24 best high school players in the nation. Sometimes politics is involved; other times, the McD’s committee’s illogical insistence on not allowing “fifth-year” players is the cause. In other cases, though, the issue is out of Ronald’s hands, and it’s for the latter reason that Jordan Hamilton won’t be (or wasn’t, depending on when you’re reading this) on the floor in Miami Wednesday night.
If you’ve seen SLAM 127, you might’ve caught a piece I did on Hamilton, the Compton (CA) Dominguez senior wing who is widely considered one of the top 10 players in the country. Hamilton didn’t make the McDonald’s roster because he didn’t play a game all season. And Hamilton didn’t play a game all season because the California Interscholastic Federation declared him ineligible.
I have some strong opinions on this topic, opinions based on experience with other state high school governing bodies, opinions that one might describe as “cynical” in regard to just how much of a sh*t, if any, such governing bodies actually give about the best interests of the student-athletes they supposedly exists to protect.
But this isn’t about me, so I’ll keep those opinions to myself.
However, in the process of reporting Jordan’s story for the magazine, I spoke at length to his father, Greg. I’ve never met Greg, but I know what he told me, and I know what I’ve read about him (including his work with juvenile offenders, specifically through the community non-profit he and his wife started in L.A.). Of Jordan’s somewhat tumultuous high school career, I know what I’ve read in the L.A. Times, and what I’ve learned from homie Justin Walsh’s hustling to get the story out (make sure you check the video). I could write and say more, but I’m going to let Greg Hamilton tell the story instead.
What I will do, real quick, is commend Greg, and especially Jordan (one of the most polite and personable kids I’ve spoken to in a decade of covering prep hoops), for being willing to tell their story — which, at this point, doesn’t really benefit them beyond getting what they see as the truth out for public consumption — and for having the patience to deal with everything they’ve dealt with. Beyond that? Let’s just say I’m looking forward to seeing Hamilton play at the Jordan Classic at the Garden in a few weeks, and I plan on rooting hard for him next season when he suits up in burnt orange.
In eighth grade, we were notified by a couple of Jordan’s teachers that we should probably have him tested [for learning disabilities], because he was struggling. We did what we could as parents, but I figured, he’s just not concentrating. I’m a disciplinarian, I’m like, “Come on man, you need to focus.” He was getting up in class, speaking out of turn. My wife was actually going to school and sitting in classes with him.
The L.A. Unified School District does not have a retention policy — it’s social promotion, because the school district cannot accommodate the amount of kids who would have to be held back. So, going into 9th grade, I talked with his coaches, and there were many promises made — “We’ll work with him, we’ll monitor him.”
Well, we saw that Jordan was struggling again, so we wrote a letter to the administration at Dorsey High School to try and get him tested. We couldn’t get any assistance from anyone, even after submitting a letter. And in 9th grade, he failed miserably.
So I went in, and we got him a tutor going into 10th grade, but the same things were still going on. We requested assistance, were at the school just about every day. The tutor began to work with him, help him get organized, and he started doing homework, but the tutor said, “Something ain’t right.” And he barely got by for basketball season. Eventually, we just couldn’t afford the tutor anymore, and he began to drop again.
Going into 11th grade, we had a tutor working with him again, and he was doing a little bit better, but we were still putting in requests, talking to the school counselor. She began to work with us, telling us how we could get Jordan caught up. After basketball season, things began to look promising athletically, but he still had problems academically. I said, “This isn’t working.”
Finally, we got a letter from a school psychologist, saying, “I apologize that your son wasn’t tested since 2004.” She said he would be the first one tested going into senior year.
When the coach got wind — and he couldn’t help get wind, I was there every day, and I got a little bit obnoxious — a dean told me, “Get your son out of this school, because they’re not going to assist him.” For him to say that about the top player at his high school? But they knew what his academic situation was. After he heard what happened with dean, the coach said, “What can I do to assist you?” Well, it was a little late for that. He tells me he wants to help me now?
Finally, in the spring of 2007, we checked him out of Dorsey, and we were looking for a school. Jordan’s young for his grade — he started high school at 13 — so staying back wouldn’t have been a problem. Anyway, we were trying to figure out what high school he’d fit with, and we began to review, ask around. And then I decided to send him to Dominguez. I talked to Russell Otis, the Dominguez coach, and told him what we were doing, some of the problems we were having. He said, “No problem.” We got in touch with the IEP coordinator, the special-ed coordinator, and they began to get the ball rolling.
Next thing you know, the following semester, we were finally able to have Jordan assessed, and we were told, “Your son struggles in the area of attention, I think you should have son assessed by a doctor.” So we met with a physician and a psychologist. Finally, last year, he was diagnosed with ADHD — Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
So here are, we’ve got a list of athletes who have AD/HD, and how it can be managed with medication — who wants to put their child on medication? But he needed help. We were laughing one day, watching something on the NBA channel with LeBron James running around, and Carmelo saying “Give him his calm-down pills!” So who knows?
His teachers were aware that Jordan had a learning disability, and they began to deal with him on a personal level. The kid passed his exit exam for English — he already had his math score — and his grades began to accelerate. We’ve been able to dial down the medication a lot. He passed his SAT exam. All this stuff transpired because he got the assistance that he needed.
So now, he’s been diagnosed, but what’s haunting him is that 9th grade year. It’s 2008, and he’s being penalized for 2004.
Anyway, I had left my home for a year to move to Compton, to live over there for a year while he was in school. I didn’t know that could be a problem. But then we had to deal with the CIF.
First of all, my number-one concern was not the CIF, my number one concern was the NCAA. Jordan was already short of core classes, in order to graduate high school. Our concern was that the NCAA would allow him an extra year, because I knew he wasn’t mature enough to go to college yet. Thankfully, with the info we sent to the NCAA, they allowed him to go back for a fifth year. So I’m thinking, “The CIF, c’mon — if the NCAA okays it, the CIF should be a no-brainer.
We had all the documentation from the NCAA, and we went before the CIF Southern Section last fall, and they denied his hardship application for another year of eligibility. They denied him because there had been eight consecutive semesters in high school, so his high school “clock” had stopped.
So we had to appeal. We gave them all this information, that there was a hardship — all this falls under their guidelines — and we sat in there and we began to talk about this appeal process, and before we could get seated, the guy said something about residence. My attorney said, “We’re not dealing with residence. You never said you were questioning his residence.” Because of moving to Compton.
This was December. We got the answer a couple days later. He denied our appeal, and listen to what he said — they denied our appeal based on his concern that this move had been for athletic purposes only, not academics. I’m saying, “Wait a minute, this kid is the CIF player of the year, first-team All-State, MVP of their conference, and you mean to tell me this was athletics? Why would he need to move for athletics?”
The day after that, he knew we were going to appeal to the state board, so he sends a letter to the state that Jordan’s residency is in question. [In February, a few weeks after we spoke, Jordan's final eligibility appeal was denied by the CIF.]
Now I know people say, “He’s going to Texas, full ride, what are you complaining for?” Well, that’s easy for you and me to say. This guy has denied my son the opportunity to play his senior year, and to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. That’s the penalty that’s coming out of this, because we chose to do the right thing. We chose, as parents, to follow the system, so we’re getting penalized.
This kid took a lot of ridicule — from me. I work in the probation department, and I see a lot of parents who are in denial about their kids. I didn’t want to be in denial. But I’m telling you, my son has matured. He’s really humbled now. I would always tell people, “He’s like 18 going on 16.” But off the court, what you see, what you hear, that’s just the kind of kid he is. He’s a good kid.
For his senior project, he wants to go and talk to 9th grade classes, tell them how important it is that you understand your learning curve, academic dedication, and how not to fall behind. He talked to the counselors, and they were so elated to hear that.