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‘Last Chance U’ alum Joe Hampton matures, makes the most of one last opportunity

'Last Chance U' alum Joe Hampton made the most of an opportunity to play for Long Beach State the last two seasons.
‘Last Chance U’ alum Joe Hampton (shooting) made the most of an opportunity to play for Long Beach State the last two seasons.
(John Fajardo / LBSU Athletics)
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Joe Hampton is slimmer than he looked during his days as the skilled but hot-tempered forward in Netflix’s “Last Chance U: Basketball.” Two years later, it’s not only the 15 pounds of playing weight he dropped that makes Hampton look lighter. His eyes are brighter, his smile wider. His transformation has gone beyond the physical.

The matured “Last Chance U” alum is ready for his next chance.

Hampton, a former four-star recruit from the same boarding school that produced Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo, once felt destined for the NBA. He’s a longshot now after a six-year, four-stop college career that included two seasons at Long Beach State, but a call-up to the league wouldn’t be the first time he beat the odds.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a student-athlete who has overcome more adversity to get where he’s at than Joe has and has progressed as a person in two years as much as Joe has,” Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said.

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After starring in the popular Netflix series that followed the East Los Angeles College team, Hampton played in 35 games in two seasons for Long Beach State. He averaged 9.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 17 games this season before breaking his left wrist in February.

The season-ending injury to his shooting hand was the latest hurdle for the 24-year-old who suffered knee injuries in consecutive years before leaving Penn State without playing a game. Those setbacks sent him spiraling out of basketball completely. This time, he led cheers from the Long Beach State bench and offered coaching tips to other post players as the Beach won their first regular-season Big West championship since 2013.

Even though 'Last Chance U' alum Joe Hampton broke his hand in February, he continued to cheer his teammates from the bench.
Even though ‘Last Chance U’ alum Joe Hampton broke his wrist in February, he continued to cheer his Long Beach State teammates from the bench.
(John Fajardo/LBSU Athletics)

The smiling figure dressed in warmups and clapping with a black cast around his left hand at the end of the bench looked nothing like the fiery player storming off the court in the middle of games in “Last Chance U.”

Hampton was a central character in the show, which followed East L.A. during the 2019-20 season. The Washington D.C. native was trying to rediscover himself after injuries ended his career at Penn State. He was a top prospect at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, but said on the show he “wanted to crawl up in a ball and die” after leaving the Nittany Lions.

Coming to L.A. provided a fresh start. He played at Pasadena City College for a season, but then gave up basketball. He worked at Dollar Tree and Big Lots.

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Watching a former high school teammate on TV in an NBA game reignited Hampton’s passion for the game. He called East L.A. coach John Mosley, who invited him to a tryout. Less than a month before the workout that could give him a fresh start, Hampton was pulled over for a bad headlight and officers found outstanding warrants for theft and bank fraud.

According to the L.A. County district attorney’s office, Hampton pleaded no contest to one felony count each of second-degree burglary, grand theft and forgery relating to an item exceeding $950 in value and pleaded no contest to a separate grand theft charge. He was sentenced to three years probation, 18 days in jail and 15 days community service.

After he was released, Hampton learned Mosley wrote a letter to the judge on his behalf.

“I’m glad I had Coach Mosley in my life at the time because he really saved my life,” Hampton said. “I owe him for life.”

Hampton averaged 11.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game at East L.A. He electrified teammates with no-look passes, left-handed three-pointers and a plethora of low-post moves.

But he didn’t start any games and his emotions soon overshadowed his performance on the court.

UCLA was moments away from reaching the Elite Eight for the second time in as many years before North Carolina surged late, dashing the Bruins’ dreams.

March 25, 2022

Referees struggled to officiate the powerful 6-foot-8, 250-pound prospect going up against smaller junior college talent and he argued with officials during games. Hampton jogged through timed sprints and walked out of practices. When Mosley benched him, Hampton stormed off the court, screamed in the locker room and slammed a chair.

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When Hampton watched an advance edit of the series with his family, the scenes of his tantrums left him embarrassed and frustrated. They laid bare what he did and what Hampton hopes he never repeats.

The series premiered on Netflix in March 2021, and by then Hampton had already played at Long Beach State for a season, starting a team-high 17 of 18 games and averaging 10.3 points per game. Monson told Hampton he was lucky for the show’s delayed release.

“When I saw it, I was taken aback,” Monson said. “The first thing I said to him, I’m like, ‘Joe, I’m glad you didn’t pull some of that stuff with me.’ He said, ‘Oh Coach, I would have never done that here.’”

Like Mosley, Monson saved Hampton’s life, the NBA hopeful said. The 14-year Long Beach State coach welcomed Hampton as a walk-on in 2020. It was three years after Hampton, looking for a destination after flopping at Penn State, committed to Long Beach State but wasn’t academically eligible.

Monson admits he gave up on Hampton when his grades fell through the first time. But assistant coach Senque Carey kept in touch and assured that Hampton would pay his own tuition. The risk of adding him would be minimal, Monson thought.

UCLA can’t hold on to the lead after North Carolina embarks on a late 12-2 run on the way to a 73-66 win in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

March 25, 2022

The reward was huge.

Hampton earned a scholarship about a month into the regular season. He was coachable and showed up early to meetings and practices. Most importantly, he stayed on top of his schoolwork.

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The biggest achievement in Monson’s eyes is that Hampton will graduate in May. Hampton beams with pride when he says he will be the first male in his family to graduate from college. His family — including his mother and five younger siblings — plan to attend the ceremony in May.

“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to go to college where I come from. Washington D.C., it’s treacherous out there,” Hampton said. “I’m really not supposed to be here. I’m not. So having this degree and having something that I can have and take with me and make something of myself after basketball is a great feeling.”

Hampton’s talents on the court were never a question — Long Beach State teammates consistently ranked Hampton’s abilities among the best on the team. But Monson quickly noticed how emotional Hampton could get. Controlling his emotions was a skill, just like defense, Monson told him, and not doing so could hold him back. Monson suggested meeting with a sports psychologist.

It wasn’t the first time Hampton was told he needed help. It was the first time he listened.

“It matters,” Hampton said of addressing mental health. “I think it’s more of a conversation now and I think it’s a microscope on it in the game because a lot of the guys need it and not just in basketball. Every sport.”

While many of his high school peers are well into their professional careers, Hampton is only beginning the search for his next opportunity. His preparations for hopeful NBA workouts have been stalled by the broken wrist on his shooting hand.

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Sitting on the Long Beach State court, Hampton pats his left hand. It’s the breadwinner, he says with a smile. Once the cast comes off, training for his next chance can begin in earnest.

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