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Tampering? Exploring The Relationship Between USC Assistant Jason Hart and Isaac Hamilton

Current USC assistant coach Jason Hart was Isaac Hamilton’s AAU coach in 2011. Hart also tried to get out of his NLOI with Syracuse in 1996. (Mandatory Credit: Tom Hauck /Allsport)

When Isaac Hamilton’s family told the LA Times Saturday that he wanted UTEP to let him out of his National Letter of Intent because of his ailing grandmother, something about that excuse did not sound right. Many college players have sick family members, but few will leave a university to stay closer to home. Hamilton claimed that he never gave his grandmother a chance to watch him play, and El Paso was too far to go from his Los Angeles home. UTEP head coach Tim Floyd did not believe Hamilton, and refused to let him out of his National Letter of Intent. That led to some hard feelings on both sides, that ESPN’s Andy Katz explored in detail in a story written on its web site Monday afternoon.

After some late night research into USC, I learned that one of their new assistant coaches is former NBA player Jason Hart. He spent 11 years in the NBA after a stellar career at Syracuse. Oh, by the way, Hart was an AAU coach in the LA area and one of his standout players happened to be Isaac Hamilton. It gets better. When Hart was a high school senior, he signed a NLOI to play basketball at Syracuse University. However, the 6-2 guard, who was one of the top prep players in the nation decided he had a change of mind and wanted to stay on the west coast. His reason? His older brother Jadifi suffered from a kidney disease. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim refused to allow him out of his NLOI, because Hart had already signed with Syracuse when his brother’s kidney disease was in a serious stage. Boeheim thought that the Inglewood High School star wanted to attend UCLA, where their top point guard recruit at the time, Olujimi Mann, failed to qualify. Syracuse won their fight and Hart ended up attending Syracuse. During the next four year years, Hart became the school’s all-time steals leader and was second in career assists.

I have no idea what kind of conversations Hart and Hamilton have had since the former NBA veteran became an assistant coach at USC in April. If Isaac approached Hart about getting out of his signed NLOI with UTEP, then it is not tampering. However, if Hart approached Hamilton, who had been working out at USC the last few months, then it would be a major NCAA recruiting violation for a program that just finished dealing with a previous scandal. Do not be surprised if the NCAA takes a closer look at this situation regardless of the outcome of the appeal.

What a remarkable coincidence that both Hamilton and Hart share the same story for wanting to break their signed letters of intent! Despite the Hamilton family insisting that Isaac wants to stay close to home to be near his ailing grandmother, playing at USC for his former AAU coach could be another major factor. Trojans new head coach Andy Enfield has repeatedly said that they will not allow Hamilton to play at USC regardless of the outcome from the NLOI Appeals Committee. Remember, Hart lost his battle with the Collegiate Commissioner’s Association and ended up at Syracuse, where he became a star. If history repeats itself, maybe Miner fans will still be able to see their most prized recruit in a UTEP jersey.

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