CHAMPAIGN — Jermaine Hamlin was set to reclassify and spend next season at Link Prep in Branson, Mo. The idea was to improve his stock enough to land a Power 6 offer and play college basketball at the highest level.
Turns out the Lincoln grad won’t have to put his college basketball career on hold after all. Hamlin committed to Illinois on Saturday and is set to join the Illini for the 2019-20 season. The news was first reported by Prep Hoops Illinois.
“To go to prep school was to improve myself and try to get to this level and play at a place like Illinois,” Hamlin said. “When an opportunity jumps at me now, it’s kind of like, ‘Why would I pass this up?’ It’s right down the road, so it’s even close for everybody to come watch.”
Hamlin earned IBCA Third Team All-State honors this past season at Lincoln. The 6-foot-10, 220-pound center averaged 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds for the Railsplitters, while blocking 41 shots for the season and shooting 71.4 percent from the field.
Hamlin’s recruitment following his senior season at Lincoln saw him hold offers from Purdue Fort Wayne, Eastern Illinois, North Dakota and South Dakota. That put the reclassification idea in motion, and with that saw Hamlin earn a roster spot with Brad Beal Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit. He wound up playing sparingly as a backup big for Brad Beal Elite — averaging 3.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 19 games — but he posted better stats across the board at the Peach Invitational in mid-July.
That’s where Hamlin said Illinois started showing increased interest.
“They just liked the way I’ve improved over the years,” Hamlin said. “They said I’ve gotten a lot better from when they first saw me. They saw me and how I improved and thought I could get way better.”
Hamlin has only played basketball seriously for four years.
“You wouldn’t even think I was the same player as I am right now because of how much I’ve been improving,” Hamlin said about where his game was at as a freshman in high school. “It’s pretty insane. Right now I feel like I’m a pretty big defensive player, blocking shots and defending the ball pretty well. I feel like I can do a good job of guarding a lot of positions.”
Hamlin got a chance to see Illinois in action during the team’s final practice ahead of its trip to Italy. What he saw two weeks ago at Ubben Basketball Complex matched what he witnessed before with the Illini.
“There was always a lot of energy going on in practice,” Hamlin said. “I’d been to previous practices where I’ve seen them full on going at it. It’s always competition. Even though they’re all teammates when they’re playing and scrimmage they’re on different teams. It’s always competitive.”
The academic year at Illinois starts Aug. 26. Hamlin’s leaving Lincoln for Champaign — a path former Railsplitters and Illini great Brian Cook once took — on Tuesday. The newest Illini is looking forward to competing at the highest level in college basketball, but he also knows it will be a challenge.
“Just sticking with it, being committed and working hard every single day,” Hamlin said was his goal. “It’s going to be tough — it’s going to be hard times — but I’ve got to power through and motivate myself to keep pushing myself.
“I feel like this first year I’m going to go in and do as much as I can to help the team in any way — whether it’s on the defensive end or giving a guy a break. However I can help this team I”m going to do that job.”