Becoming a Champion

Written by Paul Fairchild in the November 2008 Issue

Native Edmondite Andy Hamilton wins. He wins big. During his tenure as assistant coach of the women’s basketball team at Northern Oklahoma College his team, the Jets, dominated its league. But Hamilton, who once played for Edmond Memorial, is not a typical coach. If all his team does during a season is win a championship, he feels strongly that he’s not doing his job. Hamilton needs more than that. He needs to see his team win—on and off the court.

Four short months ago Hamilton took a position as head women’s basketball coach at Allen Community College in Iola, Kansas. His goal: build a program that rivals Northern Oklahoma’s.

Basketball’s always been in Hamilton’s blood. “I started playing basketball at a young age,” says Hamilton, “Sports has always been a big part of my life. I concentrated on basketball when I reached high school but was not athletically gifted enough to move my playing to the next level so I got
into coaching.”

At just 23, Hamilton’s a coaching prodigy. Though as a player, he primarily kept benches warm. Playing for Edmond Memorial, he says, he was little more than a glorified cheerleader.

“After graduation,” says Hamilton, “I was out of basketball for a year while at Oklahoma State. I got an incredible opportunity to come back as assistant coach for Edmond Memorial with Rob Hunt, the head coach. I coached freshman boys basketball. It was really rewarding. After that I headed up to Northern Oklahoma College in Enid as an assistant coach.”

Andy attributes his success as a coach not just to his holistic approach, but also to his age. Most coaches would view Hamilton’s age as a weakness, but he exploits it as a strength. “I think a lot of it has to do with me being young,” he says, “I’m only 23 years old. I think that helps me relate to young players. I think that I’m just young enough to relate to them and just old enough to command their respect.”

At Northern Oklahoma, Hamilton’s team owned its league, not just on the court but in academics, as well. “When I was at Northern we were three-time Academic National Champions. The lowest GPA we had in those three years was a 3.5. We also never won less than 23 games a season.”

Says Scott Morris, the Jets’ head coach, “You need to keep your eye on this guy. Andy has a sharp basketball mind, is incredibly driven and has the integrity to get it done the right way. To get an opportunity to be head coach at a place like Allen this early in his career blows the doors wide open in terms of his potential.”

Hamilton’s stint at Edmond Memorial underscored for him his total devotion to basketball and to the players he coached. “I’ve always loved basketball,” he says, “One of my favorite things about the game is that you can take a ball and go to the park and play it yourself. You can’t do that with other sports. So it’s really accessible for young people. But the game of basketball is truly great because it also teaches life lessons—perseverance, accountability and teamwork.”

Hamilton’s favorite success story highlights his unusual coaching philosophy. With his leadership, Megan Byford, a Jet, improved her playing and her character. Says Byford, “Coach Hamilton is one of women’s basketball’s great coaches. He fired us up, got us excited to play the kind of aggressive basketball he likes. But he’s not just a great coach.”

After two years at Northern, Byford moved on to OSU where she plays point guard for the Cowboys. Her performance was key to the Cowboys’ berth in the Sweet Sixteen last year. In both life and on the court, she leans on the lessons she learned from Hamilton.

Hamilton hopes to replicate his success at Northern with his new team, the Devils. His colleagues bet dollars to doughnuts that he’ll do it, but they’re only talking about his team’s record on the court. Hamilton, however, won’t concede the point unless he also instills them with values that lead to success in life. For Hamilton, the equation is simple: the best people make the best players. And the best players, of course, bring home the championships.

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