Eastern Kentucky did more than introduce new men’s head basketball coach A.W. Hamilton on the floor of McBrayer Arena on Wednesday.
They welcomed him home.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s hard to even put it into words,” said Hamilton, a Georgetown native who spent the past year as an assistant coach at North Carolina State. “It’s all kind of surreal still, but I’m so happy. I never dreamed in a million years this would happen, but it did. We’re excited to be here and excited to get things going.”
Hamilton’s Kentucky ties as a former state-title-winning player at Scott County High School might have meant as much as the young coach’s impressive résumé as an N.C. State assistant, a head coach at Hargrave Military Academy — one of the country’s top prep schools — and his playing experience as a three-year captain at Marshall.
EKU Athletics Director Stephen Lochmueller prioritized three things in the school’s nearly monthlong search to replace Dan McHale. EKU wanted someone with head coaching experience, someone with knowledge of Kentucky who could recruit inside the state and out, and someone who would be a “good fit” for the community. He believes he found them.
“A.W. Hamilton is a leader. A.W. Hamilton is a recruiter. A.W. Hamilton is a master, on and off the court of player development, and even more so, A.W. Hamilton is a winner,” Lochmueller said as he introduced the Colonels’ 21st head coach.
For Hamilton’s wife, Chelsea, the thought of the family having an opportunity to return to their home state was almost too much to hope for. Chelsea Hamilton is an Edgewood native who cheered at Morehead State.
“When I got the call, it was very overwhelming,” Chelsea Hamilton said. “When I actually saw it on Twitter to make it real, I had to take a deep breath. I’m like ‘oh my goodness, we’re moving to Kentucky.’ How lucky do you get?”
A.W. Hamilton bragged that his wife is actually the best recruit he’s ever had. The two met on a blind date years ago when he was head coach at Hargrave Military Academy at a road game in Louisville and she lived in Lexington. A mutual friend set them up.
“As soon as she walked in the restaurant, I knew I was going to marry her,” Hamilton said. “I had to convince her that a long-distance relationship was going to work. And that was tough. That’s why I always say she’s my best recruit.”
For now, the Hamiltons are living with daughters Charleigh, 4, and Andi, 2, in his parents’ basement in Georgetown. “For right now. Hopefully not too long, man. I can’t get any rest in there,” A.W. Hamilton said, laughing.
Hamilton has already started recruiting with the players EKU has on its roster and back home in Georgetown. Scott County junior standout Michael Moreno announced he received an EKU scholarship offer just one day after Hamilton was announced as head coach.
During his brief speech, Hamilton invited EKU’s current players to stand with him in front of those gathered for the announcement.
“I told them when I met them that ‘I didn’t recruit you here, but I’m going to re-recruit you and you’re going to be my guys,” Hamilton said. “I’m not going to promise that we’re going to win the OVC championship next year. But what I will promise ... these guys will play harder and with more passion than anybody in the country, and they’re going to make you so proud.”
Hamilton said his teams will play a fast, exciting style of basketball. All-Ohio Valley Conference forward Nick Mayo, who will be a senior on next season’s team, said Hamilton impressed his teammates with his energy and enthusiasm.
“We really liked him from the first moment that we saw him,” Mayo said. “I know we’re going to be getting up and down a lot. We’re going to be pressing and it’s going to be fun basketball to watch.”
Hamilton starred at Scott County in the late 1990s, helping the school win a state championship in 1998 and finish second in 1999. He was named first-team All-State after his senior season.
Hamilton said he still talks with Scott County Coach Billy Hicks regularly. “I only talk to him about once a week, because every time I talk to him it takes about two hours,” Hamilton said, smiling.
Hamilton played and coached for a number of years under mentor Kevin Keatts, N.C. State’s first-year head coach. Keatts was Hamilton’s head coach for his one season at Hargrave Military and was an assistant when Hamilton played at Marshall.
From 2011 to 2017, Hamilton led Hargrave to a 237-22 record and the 2016 National Prep Championship. He was named the national prep coach of the year in 2012 and 2016.