RICHMOND, Va. -- Not quite a year ago, Rick Hamlin stepped down as head basketball coach at Trinity. But that didn’t mean he stopped being a coach, especially to his former players.
One of those former players is headed to the Final Four in New Orleans after one of the best seasons in his school’s storied history.
“By his second year here, I realized this kid would do whatever it takes to win,” Hamlin said of Armando Bacot, the junior forward at North Carolina who has led the Tar Heels back to the Final Four. “You see it in his rebounding, you see it in how he leads that team.”
Bacot was named MVP of the East Region after scoring 20 points and hauling down 22 rebounds in a win over St. Peter’s that sent the Heels to the Final Four. For the season, Bacot has 29 double-doubles, tying Tim Duncan for the most in ACC history.
Bacot won a state championship with Hamlin at Trinity and a national title with his AAU team. Now, he’s hoping to add NCAA champion to that list.
“Whatever team he has been on usually wins,” Hamlin said. “To me, that’s no coincidence.”
And yet, there was a real chance this season would never happen at all. Less than a year ago, Bacot entered his name into the NBA Draft but did not hire an agent. With head coach Roy Williams retiring, Hamlin believes that UNC’s decision to name Hubert Davis as head coach was one of, if not the biggest reason, why Bacot decided to return to school.
“When they [UNC] recruited Armando, Coach Williams came here five or six times,” Hamlin recalled. “Every time, Hubert Davis was by his side.”
Hamlin, who keeps in regular contact with Bacot, also offered his opinion on the benefits of another year in college.
“I felt like unless he had the guarantee of a great situation of being drafted to a place where he could be assured of making a roster, I did feel coming back, working toward his degree, and getting a full Carolina experience [post COVID], I did tell anyone who would listen: If he comes back, he will be first-team All-ACC,” Hamlin said. “I think he’s in a much better position because he’s shown how he can lead his team. He’s also expanded his game, especially on the defensive end.”
Hamlin was in Philadelphia for both East Region games, even if that wasn’t clear to him at the beginning. He wasn’t aware that Bacot had arranged for Hamlin to have tickets to both games.
“I knew I would be there for the Friday night game, but I didn’t know about the Sunday game until I got back to Richmond Saturday night.”
That wasn’t the only stressful part of the weekend. Being a fan is one thing, but being a former coach without an outlet to offer any kind of assistance during a game was almost too much to bear.
“I got this new watch for Christmas” Hamlin explained. “When your heart rate gets too high, it sends you a little message that says you need to relax. I only got one of those ever before. During the weekend, five or six times the watch told me ‘You need to do your relaxed breathing’. I’m a UVA fan, but when you know someone as well as I know him, he’s family to me. It’s just been an incredible journey. I feel the pride you would as a family member to watch this journey unfold.”