If there was such a thing as a Mount Rushmore for Carbondale basketball, there’s a very good chance Joe Hamilton’s mug would be one of the four faces.
All-State player, Carbondale Community High School Hall of Famer, Hall of Fame Committee member and 20-year assistant coach for Jim Miller.
“The voice of experience,” a somber Miller said Monday, summing up the life of his assistant and long-time friend who passed on Thursday at 53 at St. Elizabeth Hospital in O’Fallon.
“Just such a great ambassador for the school,” athletic director Mark Albertini said. “He played here, graduated here and was an all-state basketball player. He played at Eastern Illinois, came back home and gave back to the community.”
Hamilton was a part of what some consider the best team in Terrier history, the 1983-84 squad that went 27-0 and won a regional title before an upset loss in the sectionals. He played two years of junior college ball in Wyoming before signing with EIU.
In two years with the Panthers, Hamilton started 19 of 59 games, averaging 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds for a 17-11 team his junior year. He scored 4.8 points and grabbed 3.3 rebounds as a senior, canning nearly 59 percent of his shots for a 16-16 team that lost in the Mid-Continent Conference semifinals.
But stats didn’t come close to telling the story of Hamilton’s accomplished life. It was what he did for young boys and men, according to Miller and Albertini, in his roles as mentor and coach that separated him from the average person.
“He lived it,” Miller said. “Joe was a guy who played here, was a great player and then came back here. He knew how to give young people the confidence they needed, whether it was on the floor or another walk of life.”
With Hamilton at his side, Miller took Carbondale to consecutive state tournaments in 2004-05. It placed fourth in 2004 in Class 2A, then reached the finals the following year before losing to cap a 31-3 season.
Albertini said Hamilton was authentic on and off the floor.
“You see someone that talented and great at his sport, it doesn’t always translate over to coaching,” Albertini said, “but it did with him. He was a father figure to a lot of these young men, a father figure a lot of them needed.
“Everywhere he went, everyone knew him and knew what he meant to the kids and community. He treated everyone like his best friend.”
The cliché about someone being a right-hand man could have been created for Miller and Hamilton’s professional relationship. When Hamilton was able to join Miller’s staff in 2000, he became more than a coach.
Hamilton was the guy Miller bounced ideas off, particularly when he needed an opinion devoid of fluff. It was that quality Miller came back to when he talked about all the late-night conversations on road trips from, say, Belleville or Salem.
“If I wanted to ask him something, I knew I was going to get an honest answer,” he said of Hamilton. “We saw a lot of games together for 20 years, did a lot of scouting. When I heard the news Thursday, it hit me like a ton of bricks.”
There will be a visitation for Hamilton at Jackson Funeral Home in Carbondale on Friday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m., followed by a graveside service at Oakland Cemetery. A mask will be required to attend the service and social distancing protocol will be followed.
“You can’t replace a Joe Hamilton,” Albertini said. “He was one of a kind.”
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