By MATT SCHUCKMAN
Herald-Whig Sports Editor
When Brad Hamilton pumped his fist after his third straight 3-pointer fell, John Wood Community College men's basketball coach Brad Hoyt took notice.
When an excited yell came with it, everyone noticed.
It's something they'll never forget.
In early February, playing Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa, the Trail Blazers had trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half when Hamilton, the sophomore guard from Pittsfield, got hot. On three consecutive possessions, he buried 3-pointers.
Each one came from a step farther back. Each one was taken with a defender challenging him more.
"They were face-guarding him," Hoyt said. "They knew he was a shooter."
What no one expected was Hamilton to break character.
"I try not to get excited," Hamilton said. "If I get really excited by a shot, then if I miss a shot, I could get really down. I don't want that to happen. I try to keep it consistent if I make five in a row or if I miss 10 in a row."
Asked why he let loose with the fist pump and howl on that one occasion, Hamilton sheepishly smiled.
"It was kind of in the moment," Hamilton said. "Big game, big atmosphere. It just kind of felt right. If you make a couple shots in a row, it's as big as a dunk. That's what we were feeling at the time."
For good reason. The Trail Blazers rode the momentum to a 74-73 victory, the program's first time beating SCC.
"Our guys responded to Brad in a really cool way," Hoyt said. "It gave our guys so much confidence. They were like, â€˜OK, Brad's ready to go.' They saw that fire out of him. They played that much harder."
Should the Trail Blazers (20-9) get on another run this weekend, Hamilton might break from character again.
JWCC is playing host to the Region 24 Tournament at the Student Activity Center. The Trail Blazers are seeded third and will have to win three games to advance to the national tournament.
That could mean having to knock off second-seeded Danville and top-seeded Rend Lake in the process. Those two teams recently beat John Wood at home to close the regular season.
"If we get to Sunday, there might have to be a fist pump," said Hamilton, referencing when the championship game is slated to be played.
If the Trail Blazers are still alive, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Hamilton has gone on a magical ride before.
The all-time leading scorer in Pittsfield history, Hamilton led the Saukees to the Class 2A final four in 2011. Pittsfield finished fourth, bringing home just the second state trophy in the program's vaunted history.
Along the way, Hamilton showcased the skill to score against any defense. He also displayed the leadership that made Hoyt want to recruit him.
"We saw the intangibles," Hoyt said. "All those things that make a player special, he has. We wanted that."
Hoyt never expected to get the gem he's had.
"He's been better than we imagined he would be," Hoyt said. "Yes, he has."
The coaching staff noticed that would be the case the second or third day workouts started last fall.
Hamilton played behind Regan Bruenger a year ago. It was the opportunity to get some minutes, get adjusted to the college game and learn how a top juco guard -- Bruenger is now playing for the University of Illinois-Springfield -- handled himself.
It was a big part of the maturation process.
"I didn't know how college basketball was going to be," Hamilton said. "I didn't realize every team has better athletes than what I saw in high school. You have to adjust."
Hamilton knew how to explain that to his younger teammates as well as anyone.
Hoyt saw that in those early workouts.
"When Brad spoke, they listened," Hoyt said. "He brings a quiet confidence with him. He owned that room when he talked to those guys. He just did.
"He can bridge the gap with international kids just like he can with kids from Liberty. He has that air about him."
He carries that onto the court.
"Whenever players get exicted, it could lead to a drop off," Hamilton said. "Then they get down on themselves. Then the team looks at them and they can drop off, too. I just want to be steady for my team."
Hamilton has. He leads John Wood in scoring at 12.6 points per game, is the team's leading 3-point threat and has a way of settling down the Trail Blazers when the game gets hectic.
"He's the calm in the storm," Hoyt said. "At every level of basketball, there's storms throughout games. At our level, there can be a lot. He helps us handle those.
"He does that despite all he's facing. He's getting face-guarded right now. He's getting tugged, pulled, pushed, trapped. He plays on. Our guys play on, too. They follow him."
With a little luck, he'll lead them to the national tournament.
He wouldn't be able to hide his emotion then.