Summit’s loss on basketball court is others’ gain
summit daily news
Samantha Neal is 5-foot-8. Clint Hamilton is 6-foot-5. Neal makes a living hoisting 3-pointers. Hamilton does much of his damage under the hoop ” and, at times, above the rim. Neal is a sophomore. Hamilton a junior.
For everything the two Summit High School basketball stars don’t share in common, there are a few things that they do. Each was a first team all-Jeffco League selection this winter. Each averaged better than 16 points per game and drew constant attention from opposing defenses. Each would have been far and away Summit’s top returning player next season.
Instead, each is leaving the Tigers program in search of better exposure among college recruiters.
Neal will be joining her family on the Front Range ” specifically her dad, Jeff, who resigned as Summit’s head girls hoops coach Wednesday to take the same position at Golden. The Demons are Summit’s Jeffco rival and the reigning league champion.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is headed to North Austin, Texas, to play for a top-20 5A program. His decision, too, was influenced by personal circumstances. His mother moved to Texas recently for a job, and Hamilton had to decide whether to join her or continue living with a friend’s family while spending his senior year at Summit.
As recently as three weeks ago, he was set on remaining a Tiger. Then he visited Texas and practiced with the touted high school team there for two weeks. He was blown away by the athleticism and talent he faced, and decided it would be a good fit.
Both Neal and Hamilton are determined to play college ball at a high level. Hamilton said he hopes to play at a low Division 1 school or high Division 2 ” in other words, he hopes to get a scholarship.
Neal’s dad said Thursday he feels his daughter ” who led the league in scoring (17 ppg), led Class 4A in 3’s (69) and is on pace to break the state’s all-class record in treys if she continues on her current pace ” has similar potential. “I envision Sam as a small Division 1 or big D-2 (player),” he said.
In order to compete at that level, players need to be seen. They need to be talked about by recruiters, scouted by opposing coaches, unearthed, in a way.
Hamilton, who averaged nine rebounds per game in addition to his scoring prowess, said one reason he chose to move to Texas was because college recruiters scout everything, even practices, at his school-to-be. “That’s what they told me,” he said.
“Living up in Summit, it’s kinda isolated, so we probably wouldn’t have any,” he added.
Jeff Neal said of his daughter’s move, “I think playing in the Denver Front Range allows you to play both with and against better competition, and provides better exposure.”
This is nothing new to Summit. In recent years SHS football, baseball and hockey stars have all bolted for what they perceived to be better opportunities. Nothing personal, they were only trying to maximize their potential.
Mike Rathgeber, the fifth-year SHS coach Hamilton is leaving behind, has a different take.
“It’s either gonna be the best thing that ever happened to him or the worst thing that ever happened to him,” Rathgeber said. “To get D-2 money, you have to be the go-to man, the guy that carries the team.”
Hamilton was exactly that at Summit. He took as many shots as he wanted, and his stats reflected it. At a bigger school, which churns out D-1 prospects as reliably as unbearable heat hits Texas in the summer, Hamilton might not get the touches he needs to impress the scouts.
“I certainly hope it works out for him,” Rathgeber said. “The kid is such a likeable, coachable kid. He’s a rarity up here in that he’s a 365, 24/7 player. He lives and breathes basketball.”
Which, apparently, is why it makes so much sense to get out of Summit County.
Devon O’Neil can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13630, or
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KEYSTONE — Winter has arrived in Summit County, and with it comes skiers, snowmobilers and more from around the state and beyond hoping to take advantage of the area’s backcountry.