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Richard Hamilton joins Bulls for three years, $15M

Richard Hamilton’s pedigree is unquestioned includes nine years an NBA championship with Pistons. | M. Spencer Green~AP

Richard Hamilton’s pedigree is unquestioned and includes nine years and an NBA championship with the Pistons. | M. Spencer Green~AP

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Updated: January 16, 2012 10:35AM

Ash Park is the throbbing heart of working-class Coatesville, Pa., a steel town of 13,000 located 40 miles west of Philadelphia. In the heart of Ash Park, between the swimming pool and a tennis court and down two flights of stairs, are two basketball courts laid out back-to-back.

Those were the courts Richard “Rip” Hamilton graduated to when he grew tired of the court near his father’s house a few blocks away. That’s where he began developing the game that made the Bulls opt to sign the former NCAA
and NBA champion, hoping he can be the player who propels them past the Miami Heat and into the NBA Finals.

‘‘The summer leagues are there,” said Rick Hicks, Hamilton’s longtime friend. ‘‘The senior leagues are there. Everybody goes to Ash Park if they want to play basketball.’’

An NBA source said Hamilton’s deal with the Bulls, reached Wednesday night, is for three years and $15 million and not the two-year, $10 million deal previously reported, although the final year of the contract is a club option. Hamilton had narrowed his choices to three teams, but a chance to play with NBA MVP Derrick Rose made Chicago his top choice,
Hicks said.

Rose may be the quickest player in the league with the ball in his hands. Although now 33, Hamilton also has long had the reputation as a player who can run forever. At Ash Park, he used to showcase the skills that will soon be on display at the United Center. Play lasted deep into the night — and sometimes into the early morning.

‘‘You get generation after generation of the same people,’’ Hicks said when asked how Coatesville has remained so talent-rich. ‘‘You get the grandfathers, the fathers and then the sons. The people who live in Coatesville stay in Coatesville, so the same genes keep coming back around again.’’

Hamilton wanted to play basketball from a young age. He was in the right place. Coatesville was and still is a basketball town. It was where Hicks starred on the perennially tough Coatesville Area High team and where, as a first-year coach, he first noticed a scrawny, 6-3 freshman during high school tryouts.

‘‘His hand-and-eye coordination and his basketball IQ were unbelievable,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘He was throwing bounce passes from halfcourt. He could shoot the three, backdoor passes. It was like, he’s ready.’’

Then came the memorable showdowns with nearby Lower Merion and its star, Kobe Bryant. In the three high school games the two future NBA All-Stars played against each other — games Hamilton would later say brought out the best in him — Bryant averaged 25 points, Hamilton 22.

From there, his story becomes more familar. He was named the MVP of the Final Four when he led Connecticut to a national championship in 1999. He was a key member of the 2004 Detroit Pistons NBA championship team.

Hicks, who works out with Hamilton every summer and talks to him every day, said he’s in great shape and has plenty left to help the Bulls.

‘‘You’re not going to find too many 33-year-olds in the same shape as him,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘The last two years, he started working out with a personal trainer and is at a whole different level of shape than when he was younger.

‘‘He’ll be perfect with that team because he passes the ball well and he’s a team player. He’s a very personable guy, and he loves the sport. He’ll do whatever it takes.’’

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