Each year, the Dallas Cowboys mail surveys to the nation's colleges as part of their never-ending search for talent to fill the roster of America's Team. One never knows where one might find a tight end or a nickel back.
Representatives from each school--usually the sports information directors--are asked to list the best pro prospects on their teams, and the best they have seen among their opponents. Then they are asked to list the two best athletes at the school.
The name that tops the latter list at Cal State Fullerton is that of Alexander Hamilton. He plays point guard for the Titans' basketball team. He also plays off guard. And a little small forward. And on defense, he's usually assigned the opposition's top-scoring guard.
McQuarn said he wouldn't ask so much of his senior swing man if he thought Hamilton didn't have the ability to handle it. McQuarn even thinks Hamilton should consider playing football when his college basketball career is over.
"I'm going to encourage him to sit down and talk to (Gene) Murphy (Fullerton's football coach) about playing football for his fifth year," McQuarn said. "He's that much of an athlete.
"He's an athlete before he's a basketball player. And for some reason, when you have athletic ability, they can find a way to fit you into a football program. You've never seen a football player fitting into anybody's basketball program, but the NFL has a way of using athletes, and that's what Alexander is."
Football is hardly foreign to Hamilton. He was the starting quarterback on a Verbum Dei High School team that won Southern Section championships in 1981 and 1982. But Hamilton's roots were in basketball. His brother, Roy, played for McQuarn at Verbum Dei before he went on to UCLA and, later, the Detroit Pistons. Hamilton remembers going to all of Roy's games in Pauley Pavilion, thinking that someday, maybe . . .
The younger Hamilton finally played at UCLA in December, but he was a member of the Bruins' opposition.
It was a strange odyssey that Hamilton landed at Fullerton. It began with his decision to pursue basketball instead of football after he graduated from Verbum Dei. It included a two-year stop at Saddleback College. It did not include playing at Georgetown, as he once hoped it would.
Hamilton wasn't sure where he would end up after high school. Then he played in the Basketball Congress International Tournament in Phoenix, and his goal became clearer.
"That's when Georgetown came into the picture," Hamilton said. "They saw me play out there. (Coach) John Thompson liked the way I played defense."
Hamilton signed a letter of intent with Georgetown but failed to meet the NCAA's grade standards. He went to Saddleback College with the intention of improving academically, then going to Georgetown. A finger injury limited his freshman season to eight games. As a sophomore, he was the Gauchos' leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. But because of his academic problems, Georgetown was no longer obligated to honor his letter of intent, and it didn't.
"Things didn't work out," Hamilton said. "They just decided to take a freshman instead of a junior college player."
That left Hamilton looking for a place to play. He knew of McQuarn from his brother. McQuarn knew of him through reputation. And Hamilton became a Titan.
McQuarn is glad he did. After serving as a role player in 1985-86 and part of this season, Hamilton emerged as the floor leader the Titans needed to win eight of their last 11 games. He had a career-high 10 assists in a 94-71 victory over Utah State on Feb. 19. His ability to drive the lane has opened scoring opportunities for teammates Herman Webster and Richard Morton. And his ability to play three positions has given McQuarn flexibility.
Hamilton said his emergence was long overdue.
"I'd been a leader since high school," he said. "A lot of people had looked up to me as a leader, but I wasn't doing that at the beginning of the season. It just came to me . . . I had to start doing the things I should have been doing from the beginning."
Hamilton will be guarding UC Irvine's Scott Brooks when the Titans and Anteaters meet tonight in the first round of the PCAA tournament in the Forum. Brooks, 5-feet 11-inches, is 17th in the nation and first on the West Coast in scoring average at 23.6 points a game.
Hamilton also has guarded Nevada Las Vegas' Freddie Banks, New Mexico State's Kenny Travis and Utah State's Kevin Nixon--all of whom, along with Brooks, are among the PCAA's top 10 scorers. And Hamilton has done well.
"That's something I enjoy doing because I know that if I can take them out of their game when their team's whole offense is structured around them, it can change their team's whole game plan," Hamilton said.
McQuarn believes that Hamilton's defensive success is as much a result of his mental approach as his physical talent.