UCLA's Isaac Hamilton is more comfortable in his attire and on court

UCLA's Isaac Hamilton is more comfortable in his attire and on court
UCLA guard Isaac Hamilton drives to the basket against Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos during their game earlier this season at Pauley Pavilion. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA owns 11 national championships in men's basketball, and all but one were won by players wearing skimpy, thigh-revealing short shorts.

It would stand to reason then, that as the Bruins advance on their charmed NCAA tournament run, Isaac Hamilton is sticking with his chosen attire. Maybe it's good luck.


Since the beginning of the season, the sophomore guard has worn a pair of thigh-length trunks. They're not quite as revealing as those worn by members of those championship teams, but what Hamilton misses in size, he makes up for in consistency.

For example, most UCLA players have created a new look by trimming their sweatpants around the shins. Hamilton snipped his too, but "up here at the thigh," backcourt mate Bryce Alford explained, demonstrating on his own leg. Around campus, Hamilton is easy to spot. He walks from class to class in the same style shorts, thighs proudly on display.

"He's always wearing short shorts," Alford said. "And he even wears the low socks. We make fun of that, too."

Hamilton is undeterred by the jokes. He has maintained his own look and has worked at his own pace. His development, from McDonald's All-American to — two years later — an important piece of UCLA's NCAA tournament run, has not always been on schedule.

He signed with Texas El Paso out of Bellflower St. John Bosco High, but he never played for the Miners. He decided he wanted to play closer to home and, after a messy courtship that had the UTEP and USC coaching staffs snipping at each other, he landed at UCLA.

His production has been inconsistent this season, but Hamilton's late emergence recently has provided the Bruins with a final piece in the offensive puzzle. He has peaked at the right time, and done it in style.

He scored 36 points against USC in the Pac-12 tournament, a high for the team this season. Since then, his scoring has dipped, but his evolution into a point guard has freed Alford to become a bigger scoring threat.

Against Gonzaga in Friday's South Regional semifinal game, he will likely be the starter that draws the least amount of attention from the Bulldogs. But Hamilton has shown he can't be ignored.

"The game is starting to feel like it's opening to me," he said.

UCLA had hoped Hamilton would play point guard, splitting duties with Alford right from the start. Hamilton, however, had never played the position, and the change overwhelmed him.

To feel more comfortable, Hamilton asked the team managers if they could switch out his shorts. He asked for a large plus two, short enough that they wouldn't come close to his knees.

Hamilton said he never liked baggy shorts; they got in the way. And he has always been tall, with twiggy legs. He noticed the popular shorts style in California creeping shorter. So, he thought, he would too.

"And they make me look taller," said the 6-foot-4 Hamilton. "You can see more of my legs."

At first, his teammates were amused.


"Little shorts, little man," forward Tony Parker said. "It's perfect."

Even UCLA Coach Steve Alford, who wore similar shorts as a player, ribbed him. You'd fit in great in my era, he told Hamilton.

Hamilton was happy with the look, but his confidence elsewhere wavered once the season began. He had lost the bravado he played with in high school.

Playing at the new position, he tried to be perfect each play. The game moved faster. At times, he seemed paralyzed, and in November, playing against North Carolina's pressure defense, he broke down. He missed six shots and had seven turnovers on bad reads and errant passes. Dribbling up the court became an adventure.

Hamilton bounced back the following game, but mentally, he said, he didn't fully recover for months.

Parker describes Hamilton as mild-mannered and mellow. Often, he'd shrink away from games. His ball-handling responsibilities evaporated. With more pressure to score, Bryce Alford often forced bad shots off the dribble, and the Bruins wallowed.

Teammates saw a change around the second half of the conference season. Hamilton began trusting himself. He could run the offense with more assurance.

Against USC, everything solidified.

"Just seeing the ball go in like that, it really gets you back to the man," said Hamilton, who is averaging 10.6 points a game. "Like, I really used to do this."

The effect, Steve Alford said, was, "Huge. I've seen his confidence go to another level."

At St. John Bosco, Hamilton was one of the top recruits in the nation, ranked by some scouting services ahead of players like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joel Embiid and Zach LaVine.

For the first time, Hamilton said, he is starting to feel like he did back then, when he was brimming with bravado.

It's the same feel, he said, though with perhaps a stiffer breeze above his knees.