Swimming with the Shark: The Complete Interview
New men’s head basketball coach Maco “Shark” Hamilton was featured in the fall 2013 issue of the George Fox Journal. Read the full interview below to learn more about “Coach Shark” and his philosophy on and off the court.
Tell me your basketball story. How did you get involved in the game?
My earliest memory is, as a 2-year-old, shooting at a mini Nerf basketball hoop. I was always shooting around. We had a curtain rod with a gap, and I’d take a sock and put tape around it and shoot it into the gap. I was an only child, so I had to use my imagination. Basketball was innate with me, and I was fortunate enough to play it all through college. I played at a variety of levels, from D-I [Eastern Washington] to community college [Mt. Hood Community College] to small college [Eastern Oregon]. Coaching wise, this is my first college experience. Coaching high school and being around different coaches prepared me for this. I’m not doing this blind, but at the same time, it’s a new adventure.
Why do you love the game so much?
First of all, it’s what I know best. It’s been a part of me my entire life. Beyond that, of all sports, it’s the one sport that requires everyone to play together and be in sync with one another. When that happens, it’s such a beautiful thing to watch. When it’s played the right way at the highest level, it’s a thing of joy. Beyond that, sports is such a great way to help shape individuals. I’m a living testament of that. No other avenue of life can challenge us more than athletics. It brings out the selfishness in us, the greed, the bad in our character, but at the same time it can help shape us and grow us to bring out the best in us. I’ve found that to be so true in my life with the kids I’ve been able to work with. So, for me, it’s threefold: I love the game, I know the game, and it teaches so many life lessons.
What was your favorite basketball moment?
I’ve had a lot of great experiences, but without question the No. 1 was when I won a state championship (in 2010, with Union High School of Camas, Wash.) as a coach. Those four days in Tacoma were just magical. Every moment. We won the final game 52-51 when our best player hit two free throws with eight seconds left. We beat Enumclaw, who was undefeated and the No. 1 team in state, so it was a monumental upset. We were an afterthought going into tournament – just a school in our third year (of existence). We became the first non-metro (Seattle area) team to win it. You could say it was a Washington state version of Hoosiers. It was the pinnacle for me.
In light of your success at Union, why make the move to George Fox?
It was an agonizing decision. I had no reason to leave. There was nothing that was telling me, “Alright it’s time to go.” I just felt, No. 1, I always had a desire to coach collegiately, and at this point in my life with family and being established, it was going to have to take the right situation. When I was younger I would have up and left to be an assistant or anything. But at this point in life, it had to be the right situation. It was close to home [Camas, Wash.], and I was blown away by everyone I met and the commitment to athletics here, not just from the administration but the faculty. You could just see there was a genuine desire to see the basketball program take off. And lastly, the institution itself: The values of the school match up with who I am. I didn’t feel like I had to change anything about me philosophically. I could be who I am, and the reasons I coached were embraced here. And so, I honestly felt like this was taking another step in my journey. It just ultimately came down to being a great challenge and a great opportunity. I love comfort and don’t always like change, but in reality change is good for us because it keeps us sharp. God was leading me in a different direction. He was opening the door. When you’re blind to things you gotta have faith. I trust him that this was the right decision.
What are your goals for the 2013-14 season?
First and foremost, my goal is to establish an identity, a culture, of what I want to see. That’s even more important than how many wins we get this year. The goal is to build a great program that competes on a national level, and there has to be a foundation. Any building, any structure that’s created, no matter how beautiful it is the to the naked eye, has a foundation at the bottom of it. I want this group of guys to be that foundation. When that is established and guys buy into it, then the winning and losing will be a byproduct of that. My goal this season – and this is true of every year – is to maximize the talent of our guys, whatever that is. What are your long-term goals? I never set goals in terms of intrinsic values and awards, like “we’re going for this number of wins.” Yes I want to compete for a league title and be a national contender each year, but my ultimate goal is to build a sustainable program – one in which we’re consistent in the way we play and the way kids carry themselves in the community. I don’t want to see a program where we’re good one year and horrible the next. We want to sustain success, whether that means winning 20 games one year and 18 the next. Those things are out of my control. Every season the outlook is going to be positive, and we’ll have young men who are going into society and being great. If those things are happening, I would say our program has met its goals.
What is your recruiting strategy?
After the success we had at Union, I was able to develop a network of coaches throughout the Northwest, so I’ll absolutely take advantage of that when it comes to recruiting. Furthermore, I’ve had players at Union recruited, so I’ve developed relationships with AAU and college coaches. We’re also going to get out there and be visible throughout the Northwest. A lot of people don’t know who we are, so we’re going to go to games, practices, open gyms. Kids want a place to play and be part of a program where they can develop and grow. We have to present that. They have to know what we’re about.
Describe your coaching style.
If you follow college ball and know about VCU (Virginia Commonwealth) and Shaka Smart, that would be a great comparison. I was Shaka Smart before Shaka Smart was on the scene. We get up and down the floor, we attack defensively, press the entire game, play a style that’s fun to watch and fun to play in. As a coach, I’m enthusiastic. You’ll see me on the sidelines, jumping up and down, animated – but not in a negative or derogatory way. I just get excited. You might see me chest-bumping guys, getting all fired up. I’m a very laid-back person outside the court, but on the court I’m competitive. I’m demanding and have high expectations of how our guys conduct themselves. I feel like we can run as high a level a program that you’ll see at any D-1 institution.
What is your coaching philosophy?
My philosophy is simple: Connect and build relationships with young men and help in their development. Ten years from now, unless we win a national title, people aren’t going to remember what the 2013-14 team did. What they’ll remember is if the guys from that team made an impact on society. That’s important to me. I want guys leaving the program feeling like they’ve grown, matured, so they can be great husbands, great fathers, great employees, great leaders. That’s my philosophy – to connect and build sincere relationships. When that happens, it’s pretty exceptional to see how much the guys buy into what you want them to do. When they feel the coaches care about them and are interested in their lives, they’ll go above and beyond on the floor for you. That’s how you maximize their abilities.
What do you look for in a player?
Guys who are versatile and who have a high basketball IQ. I’m not a micro-manager on the court, so I trust guys to handle the ball, pass it and get off good shots.
Who are the mentors who impacted you?
It’s a diverse group. It includes Art Furman from Eastern Oregon, who was a big mentor to me. Also, Mike Cranston at Mountain View [High School]. I also model my style from non-basketball coaches, like [former Oregon football coach] Chip Kelly, not so much for the way his team plays but for how he conducts practices. And, of course, I don’t know a basketball coach who isn’t in some way influenced by [legendary UCLA coach] John Wooden. As for my philosophy, my teams live by the philosophy “MBFO” – Men Built for Others. We also have a motto: “Just Sprint.” It sums up the way we play. It’s all about playing hard with passion and being selfless.
What won’t you tolerate in your program?
We strive to be excellent in everything we do. If you settle for mediocrity and don’t want to be pushed or challenged, you won’t fit into this program. We want guys who will be great in all they do, whether that’s on the basketball court or in the classroom.
Tell me about your faith journey.
Faith is huge in my life and is the reason I coach. For me, this is my ministry field. It’s where God has called me to be impactful and help change lives. We all have gifts, and I think the Lord uses those gifts to better our world and advance his kingdom. We often think ministry is just being in a third-world country, handing out Bibles or serving in a church. I don’t agree with that. At whatever you do you can impact people’s lives and show God’s love. Coaching is that for me. At the end of the day, it’s not about winning and losing. If I never win a championship but guys’ lives are being changed and they’re going out into the world and making an impact, I’m fine with that. Winning is a byproduct of that. There’s not too many mediocre programs where that is happening. If I only coached for the wins, that would be self-serving. That’s not why I coach. I coach because God has given me this opportunity to show his love for people through the sport of basketball.
What life lessons do you feel basketball teaches?
It teaches us how to work together as teammates. I’ve never been in a job where teamwork wasn’t required. It also teaches you how to balance your time. You feel like your life is tough now? Wait until you get a family, get into the real world. There’s always a struggle to balance your time and prioritize. Sports also teach us to commit to things that aren’t always easy to commit to. They teach us to compete in all that we do. Whether you want to be a great husband, father or CEO, you have to compete to be great. Sports also reveal our selfishness and teach us how to be selfless. Life brings us trials. Sports teach us about life. Later, when these guys are in the real world – when their job is on the line, their family is on the line – they’ll remember what they learned in the arena.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I’m a pretty boring person, to be honest. I’m a homebody. Off the court I’m reserved and introverted, which can come across as non-social. I’m a pretty laid-back dude who enjoys his down time. I love being home with family and I love sports, both watching them and playing them. I like to play tennis and golf as time allows, but I don’t play much basketball because I have to eat, drink and sleep it as it is. I love all sports – I’m a Trail Blazer fan in basketball, I have season tickets to Ducks football, and I loved OSU basketball during the Gary Payton era. He’s still my favorite player of all time. I’m also a big Miami Dolphins and Toronto Blue Jays fan.
What’s with the “Shark” nickname?
It got started at Mountain View High School, where I coached, and a couple guys started calling me “Shark” because “Mako” is a type of shark. I’d heard it before, but it never stuck. All of a sudden, it became what everyone called me. Coaches started calling me that. Teachers did, and then students. To be honest, now when people call me “Maco,” I think to myself, “They don’t know me very well.” But it’s not to be confused with [former UNLV coach] Jerry Tarkanian. He was a shark for other reasons. I’m not that kind of shark.
What are your first impressions of George Fox?
The people here have been great to me. Other coaches have helped me out tremendously, and faculty members have introduced themselves and told me they’re excited for me. My hope is that we can generate a lot of excitement not only on campus but with our alumni – and particularly among those guys who played here. We want to bring them back and for them to proudly say, “That’s George Fox – that’s where I went to school and played ball.”