Franklin College’s Hamilton embraces high expectations

Ohio has long been known as a hotbed of college basketball, from the traditional Division I powers (Cincinnati, Ohio State, Dayton and Xavier) down through the smaller schools.

Almost none of them recruited Chris Hamilton — so he understands that chip that resides on the shoulder of many a Division III player. He’s carried his own chip with him, first through a successful playing career at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and later as an assistant coach both at his alma mater and at Nebraska Wesleyan.

He’s been a part of nothing but winning teams in both places, and now he’s eager to make his head coaching debut for another program with a history of high expectations. Last week, Hamilton was introduced as the new men’s basketball coach at Franklin College.

Nebraska Wesleyan posted a 69-21 record during Hamilton’s four seasons there, winning the American Rivers Conference regular season and conference tournament titles in 2019 and 2020 and advancing to the NCAA tournament. In both of those seasons, the Prairie Wolves led all of Division III in offensive efficiency.

Prior to his time in Nebraska, Hamilton worked two years on the bench at Randolph-Macon — and before departing, he helped recruit a class that just won the Division III national title this past season.

Hamilton is a D-III guy through and through, and he says he plans to become a fixture here in Franklin rather than using this job as a stepping stone to the “big time.”

“I think you make the big time where you’re at,” Hamilton said. “Seeing how, at the highest level of successes, you just care so much about the person next to you, and that Division III level is super holistic in the development of the student-athlete. We’re trying to make sure that we’re getting guys that have a self-awareness of, the ball is probably going to stop bouncing sooner than it does for guys at other levels. With that being said, when you win at the highest level of Division III, you can beat Division II teams. You can beat Division I teams. Certainly, the programs that I’ve been a part of have been testament to that.”

That passion for D-III ball was exactly what Franklin College athletic director Andy Hendricks was looking for — and even in a large candidate pool that included everything from high school and AAU coaches to former NBA players, Hamilton quickly emerged.

“We really prioritized college coaching experience and an understanding and appreciation for that Division III model,” Hendricks said. “Chris just stood out. I think he stood out from the beginning, but throughout the interview process he just continued to separate himself from the pack.”

The Grizzlies enjoyed a taste of recent success, winning HCAC tournament titles in 2021 and 2022 and sharing the regular-season crown in 2020 before the pandemic wiped out that postseason. Hamilton is excited to build on that.

With the exception of leading scorer and rebounder Matt Krause, everyone else who suited up for Franklin’s NCAA tournament game in March is expected to be back. Expectations will be high for the Grizzlies going forward — but nobody’s going to be setting the bar higher than Hamilton himself, so he welcomes that pressure.

“Pressure is a privilege,” he said. “Any time you can go to a place where people care enough to expect winning, that’s a blessing. That’s not a burden.”

Though Hamilton doesn’t have any formal head coaching experience, he did head up Nebraska Wesleyan’s junior varsity squad, which played a full league schedule. That was a plus for Hendricks, who had already been swayed by Hamilton’s ability to recruit and the fact that every program he’s been a part of has won and won big.

“Winning back-to-back tournament titles wasn’t a fluke,” Hendricks said, “and I think what Chris will bring is just a heightened sense of success in the regular season and tournament time.”

Hamilton’s plan is to get Franklin College to the top of the Division III mountain and keep it there for a while. He and his fiancee, Miranda, are looking to plant deep family roots here and embrace all things Grizzly.

“That’s what we’re excited about, Miranda and myself,” Hamilton said. “I want to be immersed in the Franklin community. I want to be a part of the whole Grizzly family, all sports in the town, the festivals; being able to be here is really exciting.”