In June, LMU welcomed Ashley Hamilton back to campus as a student to complete prerequisites for a Master’s degree in Education. Hamilton, who graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in communication, began graduate studies as a redshirt senior in his final year of eligibility during the 2012/13 season.Hamilton was just two classes shy of his graduate degree when he started his professional basketball career. In his first year playing professional basketball in Italy, Hamilton averaged 15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. I caught up with Hamilton, who hails from London, England, and asked him about his LMU experience, basketball as a career, and future plans.
How does it feel to be back at LMU and what was your motivation for coming back?
It’s great to be back and it feels like home — very familiar and comfortable to be back in Los Angeles. I’m back to finish what I started and obtain a master’s degree in education. I had plans to complete my classes while playing basketball overseas, but things were still unsettled. I felt it was best to defer my studies until this summer when I knew I would be back in Los Angeles. I have a great relationship with LMU School of Education Dean Shane Martin, and he was very helpful in guiding me when I was a student athlete. He encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree during my fifth year at LMU, and was a big part of my decision-making process.
I remember the people. The atmosphere at LMU was great from a student perspective. I had good teammates and some really good teachers. The fans were great whether we won or lost. While we didn’t win much, they were always supportive. I certainly remember the big games against UCLA, Notre Dame at South Bend, and Gonzaga. I had bigger dreams for LMU and me, and wished we could have done more during my time here but things didn’t work out that way. I learned from assistant coach Myke Scholl the importance of life off the court and being in touch with myself spiritually – being a deeper person. Each one of my coaches helped and influenced me in certain ways and I appreciate them for what they were able to do for me. I also remember many people hammering the importance of education, which was also very important to my mother.
What do you miss most about LMU and Los Angeles?
I missed the people and the sunshine. LMU was a very good place for me, and the University and community were very good to me. I still know many people here and still have friends on the team. I am always surprised at how nice people are at LMU. Many have expressed their appreciation for what I was able to do here. There are not many places in the world like Los Angeles. The city is flat and spread wide with so many things to do. I consider my lifestyle to be fairly simple, but there are certain things that I like and LMU is a big part.
Have you met new coach Mike Dunlap and his staff?
I had a chance to meet Coach Dunlap and his staff the first day I was back on campus. I went by the coaches’ offices and introduced myself. I enjoyed meeting them. They knew of me and they have a connection in Spain where I trained prior to coming to LMU (Canarias Basketball Academy). They were very welcoming and invited me to work out with the team and serve as a positive influence around the guys. I appreciate the staff opening up the doors to the basketball program to me. I also learned that Coach Dunlap is an alumnus, which is pretty cool.
At one point you made the summer roster for an NBA team. How did that go and what did you learn from that experience?
At this time last year, I made the summer pro league roster with the Sacramento Kings. What I learned from participating in the workouts is that I can play at that level and that playing in the NBA is possible. The experience also reinforced the importance of taking care of your body and staying healthy. When I was invited to the Kings’ summer pro league team, I was still nursing a knee injury that bothered me my last year at LMU, especially during conference play. I never really gave it time to heal properly and played through it. Eventually, my knee gave out just before the summer pro league in Las Vegas was about to start and I had to shut it down for about 8 weeks. As a college or professional athlete, there is tremendous pressure to play hurt and play through pain. My agent is currently exploring options to land on a NBA roster for the upcoming summer pro league.
Who did you play for last year and how did you get there?
I started the year playing for Victoria Libertas Pesaro in Italy’s first division. But the professional game is a business, and Pesaro made a business decision to give an opportunity to another player who was already under contract at my position. I was released and later signed in mid-November with another Italian team, Liomatic Viola Reggio Calabria. European basketball is all about how well and how quickly a player fits on a particular team. Players typically sign one to two year contracts in Europe when starting.
At Reggio Calabria, I played well and was named Player of the Month for January 2014. I first heard about the award through Reggio Calabria’s fan base on social media and twitter.
Are you playing for the same team next year?
At this point, I don’t know where I will be playing. My immediate plan is to play in the NBA summer pro league. I’m hoping this year is different. Beyond that, a lot of where I end up depends on my performance this summer.
Is there anything that would surprise a fan about playing professional basketball in Europe?
Professional basketball is a hard life. You practice twice a day and you are far away from your family and friends. People assume that all professional athletes lead a lavish lifestyle but it’s not like that. Surprisingly, it’s pretty basic. You wake up, get something to eat and then go to practice. You rest in between practices to keep your body fresh. At night, you’re tired because you’re working hard. You are out of your comfort zone, and the language is different. While the team tries its best to accommodate you, it’s really important to immerse yourself into their culture. Fans are a little wishy-washy. Obviously when things are going great, you’re the best in their eyes, but when things aren’t go so well, they are a little harder on you.
Is professional basketball everything you expected?
Professional basketball is a job and I take it seriously. I know it’s not for everyone, but it’s like anything else. If you want to be good at something, you have to put the time in and work. You have to dedicate as much time as possible in order to get better, develop, and minimize mistakes. I think people would be surprised at the amount of discipline and study required to be consistently good at basketball. You have to train and eat right. All those things help you move forward.
Do you now have teammates that were once WCC opponents? What is that like?
Yes. I played with Marc Trasolini, who attended Santa Clara. At first, it was strange, having played against him in the WCC for so long. We both found that we had much in common, especially coming from the West Coast Conference. We easily became friends.
What aspects of your game are you currently working on?
I’m trying to become more of a cerebral player – making things easier for myself, making the right decisions, and taking the right shots. The game of basketball requires a lot of patience. It’s easy to have good nights against teams that know nothing about you. However, once you have a good first game or two, your opponent’s defensive strategy is geared toward stopping you and better understanding your tendencies and nuances. When you play the same team again, you now face double teams, and defenses start to shade over to you. When those things happen, you have to have the patience to trust your teammates and move the ball in their direction and hope that by doing so, you’ll get the ball back in a better situation.
How did your training at the Canarias Basketball Academy prepare you for Division I basketball?
When I was at Canarias, it was not yet what it has become today. It started out as a place to go for rigorous individualized basketball training. We practiced in the morning, attended school and practiced again in the evening. We worked on all fundamental aspects of the game – ball handling, passing, shooting. Rob Orellana, who runs the academy and is an alumnus, has many connections and does a great job of preparing his players for a future in basketball. They usually have anywhere from 10-15 players that end up on US college rosters at all levels. Some have immediately turned pro and one former player is in the National Football League. Canarias annually plays and does very well at the Prep School Invitational Tournament in Rhode Island. Many scouts and college coaches attend the tournament to evaluate and recruit some of the top prep school talent around. Tournaments like those not only provide exposure to great competition, but also opportunities to get noticed and play college basketball.
What are your long-term goals?
I want to play in the NBA. I believe basketball will be part of my long-term career.
In the past, you were invited to tryout for the British National Team. Do you have any plans to continue pursuing this goal?
I love playing with my friends at home in England. I don’t get to see them much. If I’m fortunate, I would like to play in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. If the opportunity presents itself, that would be amazing.
How do you plan to stay connected to LMU and the men’s basketball program?
It’s easier now since I still know guys on the team. But I’ll still do my best to stay in touch. The better I perform in my career, the better I will be in a position to help out and impart wisdom. If I get to where I want to go, perhaps I will be able to donate to the University or help in any way I can. LMU was a good place for me and as long as the University will have me, I will continue to come back.