Even though some critics singled out Whitney Young's 2011-12 basketball team as "the biggest disappointment" of the season, coach Tyrone Slaughter weathered the storm and hasn't changed his course.
"What is our game plan for the coming season? Times two of last year. We haven't changed our approach," Slaughter said.
Last season's 16-9 squad was a disappointment, he admits, but it was largely based on high expectations. With three major Division I prospects on the front line, including 6-foot-11 Jahlil Okafor, perhaps the No. 1 player in the nation in the class of 2014, the Dolphins were projected to be one of the best teams in the nation.
It didn't happen. Whitney Young was hampered by injuries, including 6-foot-9, 240-pound Tommy Hamilton, one of the leading prospects in the class of 2013, the presence of three sophomore starters and, most of all, a killer schedule that featured four state champions. The Dolphins closed with an eight-point loss to Simeon in the sectional semifinal.
So there will be more of the same in 2012-13, a national schedule that will be highlighted by a Dec. 1 date with Simeon, a match-up with traditional power De Matha of Hyattsville, Maryland, a trip to the City of Palms tournament in Fort Myers, Florida, and trips to Myrtle Beach, Memphis, New York, Boston and Wheeler, West Virginia. Oh, don't forget a game against local power De La Salle in the CitySuburban Showdown.
"It's a tougher schedule that last year," Slaughter said. "This is the way to play all the time. We have kids who have a need to be on the national stage. If all things are in order, it will give us great preparation for the state tournament. But things happen..."
No one could have foreseen the "happenings" that torpedoed Whitney Young's team last season. Most of all, the injury to Hamilton that kept him off the court for most of the season. Slaughter believes he will recover and play up to his potential but he understands the skepticism of college coaches and recruiting analysts who wonder if he will be a disappointment as his highly publicized father was.
Thomas Hamilton Sr. was one of two seven-footers on King coach Landon Cox's unbeaten 1993 state championship team, along with the more ballyhooed Rashard Griffith, who played at Wisconsin and was the 38th pick in the 1995 NBA draft.
Hamilton was a 7-foot-2, 330-pounder who signed a letter-of-intent to Illinois but wasn't academically eligible. He attended Pittsburgh but didn't play basketball. He was signed by the Boston Celtics at the beginning for the 1995-96 season but didn't appear in a game until about five weeks remained in the regular season, spending most of the season on the injured or suspended lists. In 11 games, he scored 25 points.
Hamilton, whose weight was listed as high as 360, was signed by the Houston Rockets at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season. He started in seven games and played in 22 of them. But he suffered a lower back strain and was placed on the injured list for nearly two months, then was released.
At his size, he had a talent for shooting a three-point shot from the corner, so NBA scouts constantly raved about his potential, hoping he would play up to expectations. But he rarely was in shape. Even in high school, he had to get frequent rests because he couldn't run up and down the court on a consistent basis.
So what about Tommy Hamilton? Will he become the player that recruiting analysts project him to be? He is ranked as the No. 9 player in the class of 2013 nationally by respected recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Hot100Hoops.com. He is being recruited by Illinois, DePaul, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Purdue, Kansas, Memphis, Louisville, Indiana, Michigan State and North Carolina State.
"That's the million-dollar question. Does he want to play?" Slaughter said. "He has to ask himself how much longer he can go without maximizing his God-given ability. This is his last call. He doesn't have another year. This is it.
"He has enormous ability. Last year wasn't fair because he was doing what we asked before he was hurt. We looked for him to have a phenomenal year. We remind him of what it was like last year. His skills haven't diminished. He should be hungry to be as good as he can possibly be this year.
"Will he be as good as his skills? The ball is in his court. I think he understands. We're seeing it this spring. He has lost weight. Maybe his confidence was shaken last year. But I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. I hope he gets it. A great deal of our ability to be successful as a team lays at his feet."