Jason Hamlin of El Modena High School--the terror from the perimeter, the mad bomber from 40 feet--shot a jumper from the top of the key that swished air on its way into the arms of a Santa Ana player. Hamlin made a tentative step inside for a rebound but was sent sprawling with a hip slap from a 6-foot 5-inch forward. It's possible the Santa Ana player simply overlooked Hamlin, a 5-7 guard.
That's the story of his life. People don't see him. People step on him. People say, "Stand up, Jason," even when he is. Coaches suggest he wear lifts in his sneakers; get into the jockey business. Good thing Hamlin has a sense of humor. Good thing he's one of Orange County's most accurate long-range shooters.
"It gets discouraging after a while," Hamlin said. "But I have to believe in myself. I hear what people say, sometimes. Like, during the Foothill game the crowd was really yelling at me. They were yelling 'Shortie!' and spitting on me. I guess it got to me. I didn't play well at all.
"The thing is, it's all over the place. I have to learn to ignore it and walk away."
Hamlin's ability to sift through the negative input has helped make him a better person. And, the chorus of coaches advising, "You're too small to play basketball," have only spurred Hamlin to work harder.
"I was always shorter than the other players so I practiced a lot, I still do," he said. "When I was younger, I was the dribbler and the outside shooter. Even in fourth grade I was a good shooter. I knew I couldn't get inside so I knew I had to improve my shooting. So, that's what I did."
The junior has gone from point guard to wing and back to point guard. He said he prefers the wing because it allows him to shoot more, but also likes the ballhandling responsibilities of the point guard.
"Jason's biggest contribution is that he's a threat to score from the perimeter," El Modena Coach Bill Ervin said. "Also, with him in the game, it tends to open it up inside. Even in games where he doesn't score a lot of points, he's helping by causing defenders to come out and allowing our inside people to score.
"There are things you do have to do differently with a player of his size. You can't let him get posted up inside. When you're in a man-to-man defense, you have to watch who you have him on. But I think height is not nearly as big a factor in high school as it is in college. On this level, we don't have that much trouble matching him up with someone his size."
After playing years of football and baseball, Hamlin doesn't find it odd that he's settled on the sport that can least accommodate a person of his stature. He clings to the oft-repeated mom-ism that boys will sprout in the summer between their junior and senior years. Yet, he doubts he will grow out of his bicycle just yet. It isn't in his heredity. "My family is pretty small," he said.
That won't help Hamlin in his most sought-after goal.
"My goal has always been to play at USC, I've been a fan for as long as I can remember," he said. "I think I can make it in college ball. I hope I'll grow. I think I will. I've got to believe it. If you don't believe in yourself, then it's not going to happen."