UTEP Basketball: The Isaac Hamilton Chronicles

Jonathan Daniel

It's only been a little more than 72 hours since news broke that Isaac Hamilton wanted out of his commitment to UTEP, but it has seemed more like an eternity for Miner fans.

Saturday afternoon Miner Nation was hit with the heartbreaking news that 5 Star shooting guard and McDonald's All-American Isaac Hamilton had requested to be released from his letter of intent, and would presumably not be making his way to El Paso to take his spot on the Miners' basketball team. The reason? Apparent health issues with his grandmother.

Since that time, little has been said by either side. Isaac Hamilton and his usually active Twitter account have been silenced, and UTEP, with the exception of some general statements from AD Bob Stull, have had little to say as well. We do know that coach Floyd has denied Hamilton's request for release, and there's nothing to show that he's going to change his mind on that anytime soon.

Floyd, Per the El Paso Times:

"He had two choices - one, not to sign the letter of intent or two, to file an appeal. I'm not releasing him," Floyd said. "We have made our schedule based on having Isaac. People have bought season tickets based on our having Isaac. It's too late. He can appeal and we'll wait to see what happens. If he is allowed out, we might as well not even have letters of intent."

Of course, the Hamilton's have already filed their appeal for release with the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee, and will have to wait for a final ruling by them to determine Isaac's immediate future as it relates to playing Division 1 college basketball in the upcoming season.

Should the committee rule in Hamilton's favor, he will be eligible to play immediately, wherever he so chooses. And, should that be the case, then what is a letter of intent good for?

The National Letter of Intent (LOI) was put in place to protect against situations exactly like this. It is a legally binding contract, and ensures that A.) The university is guaranteed to have that student athlete for at least one year, and B.) That student athlete is guaranteed financial aid for that same school year.

Some argue that the LOI is purely one sided, and while they may be able to justify their arguments, the truth is it is put in place to protect both parties. Unfortunately for UTEP, it doesn't seem that protection will hold up for them in this case.

Needless to say, this whole situation has become quite messy, and has caused quite the stir in the national media. And, so far, opinions have been split. Some people have sided with coach Floyd on the issue, while others used it take jabs at him. Some have said UTEP shouldn't allow the kid out of his commitment, while others claim they have no right to hold him to it.

Heck, even ESPN's Jay Bilas took to local radio, using the situation as an opportunity to argue his case against the current state of college athletics in relation to the treatment of amateur athletes as "valueless" pieces in a system that brings in billions of dollars while refusing to split the pie with anybody but themselves!

And, while all of that is fine and dandy, somewhere in here the truth is getting lost. Well really, the truth just doesn't seem like a priority.

Now, no one is questioning whether or not Hamilton's grandmother is actually sick. From everything we've gathered, that's the absolute truth. However, whether or not that is the actual reason he decided to renege on his commitment to the Miners is still yet to be determined.

What is known, is that Isaac's abrupt decision to want out of his letter of intent just weeks before school is set to begin, coupled with other factors, makes it seem like there's more to the story than just a teenage kid wanting his grandmother to be able to attend his basketball games.

After all, it was only November of last year when he wore UCLA colors to announce on national television that he would be shocking the college basketball world by choosing to play for UTEP and coach Tim Floyd when he could've almost literally gone anywhere he wanted to.

So what went wrong? What changed? Its hard to say, but perhaps the ball was first set in motion with the firing of both USC head coach Kevin O'neill as well as UCLA head man Ben Howland. Both of those schools have been rumored to be the frontrunners to land Hamilton should he be released from his LOI. UCLA had already been a strong contender for Hamilton, USC just wasn't too appealing.

That is, until former Florida Gulf Coast head coach Andy Enfield was selected to be the replacement for O'Neill at USC. His coaching style, and team's pace of play would certainly be appealing to any high school player around the country, especially an extremely athletic and highly recruited two guard that lives only 1.8 miles from campus.

What's really interesting though, is that Enfield just finished rounding out his coaching staff in the last months, selecting former Syracuse standout and NBA player Jason Hart as an assistant. Hart, just so happens to be the former AAU coach of Isaac Hamilton, and ironically enough, he was in much the same situation that Isaac now finds himself in roughly 17 years ago.

Now, all of these things don't mean that USC has in any way been tampering in the recruitment of Isaac Hamilton, but it definitely makes you wonder. After all, why was USC the first school named when news broke that Isaac wanted out of his commitment to UTEP?

At this point, it really doesn't matter. Like it or not, Isaac Hamilton will almost certainly not be a Miner this coming season, or any season at that. The program that played by the rules, and had finally seemed to be turning the corner towards national prominence is the one who will suffer the most in the end.

So what's left to be done? Well, back in 1996 Syracuse University refused to release top 50 point guard Jason Hart from his letter of intent, and they eventually wound up benefitting from it as Hart had quite the career for the Orange.

While that likely won't be the case here for the Miners, they should stay firm in their stance, if only on principle alone. All things considered, regardless of the steering committee's determination, Isaac Hamilton will likely end up at the school of his choice, but it shouldn't be something that should be made easy for him. After all, he certainly hasn't made things easy on this end.

UTEP coaches are now left scrambling to fill the huge void created, and more than that the university has lost dollars, time, and perhaps the opportunity to land other recruits who truly wanted to don the Orange and Blue. That, will never be recouped.

That said though, all is not lost in Miner Nation. This is merely a small bump in the journey of returning UTEP basketball to greatness. Sure, the addition of Hamilton to an already talent loaded roster would've sped that process up, but the fate of a program does not lie in the hands of one recruit; regardless of how highly touted he is.

The Miners, who are preparing to enter a year that was expected by many to be the breakout year in the Floyd era, are still in a great position to have exactly that. While losses such as this one here will certainly take their toll, they are by no means insurmountable.

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