Hamlet of Francis Lewis draws offer from Wagner

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Jazmine Hamlet had her plan set. As of early April, she didn’t have the Division I school she wanted. So the Francis Lewis guard figured she would go to a junior college for a year with hopes to earn some more interest.

“I was gonna go to Monroe [in Rochester], get better and then come out,” Hamlet said.

Her plans got turned upside down — in a good way — just two weeks ago. Hamlet went down to the Boo Williams Unsigned HS Senior Showcase in Virginia with players from her Long Island Lightning Dingle travel team. That’s where Wagner College and new Coach Lisa Cermignano saw her play.

Not long after, Hamlet got a call and a scholarship offer from the Staten Island school. And May 2 on her official visit, the 5-foot-7 guard committed to play women’s basketball for Wagner, realizing her Division I dream.

“It’s like we’re all new to the situation, being that she’s a new coach, I’m new to college,” Hamlet said. “They were just really cool.”

Cermignano, a New Jersey native, comes to Wagner with quite the résumé. She was an assistant coach at Illinois for the last three years and at Vanderbilt before that. Cermignano was also a Hall-of-Fame player at George Washington. Hamlet was wowed by her credentials.

“That was one of the biggest attractions,” the Harlem native said. “I know if I decide to go further with this, she can help me.”

Hamlet was one of the driving forces behind Francis Lewis’ back-to-back trips to the PSAL Class AA semifinals. One of the best clutch players in the PSAL, she had 13 points and two huge baskets late to seal a quarterfinal win over Truman back in March. Hamlet has never been afraid to take a big shot.

“She just always plays hard,” Lewis Coach Steve Tsai said. “She’s fearless. She added that dimension. That’s something we’ll be missing. You can replace players, but her heart I don’t think you can replace.”

Added one Division I assistant coach, “She’s a very quick and athletic guard who despite her size makes up for it with heart and determination. Definitely a steal this late in the process. She’ll be a good piece to the rebuilding of that program.”

It has been a trying few months for her. Hamlet started her high school career at St. Michael Academy under Coach Apache Paschall, who died suddenly Jan. 3 of cardiac arrest. She was also close with fellow Harlem resident and Murry Bergtraum star Tayshana “Chicken” Murphy, who was murdered in September.

“Jazmine had a tough time,” said Long Island Lightning Dingle travel Coach Jaywana Bradley, who also coaches at Manhattan Center. “I am really happy for her. Especially with Apache, too, it hit her extra hard. Showing that she can handle things like that in life is a good thing. She stayed focused on her academics, that was the most important thing.”

Tsai said after the Patriots lost to Murry Bergtraum in the semifinals, Hamlet was a different person. She took it harder than anyone.

“Since then, you wouldn’t know she’s the same Hamlet,” Tsai said. “She’s matured so much. She’s worked harder and is more focused. Even teachers in the school say she’s much different.”

Now she has found a nice fit for her future, a Division I school not far from home and her mother, Venus Keith, who she is close with. The plans to go the junior college route have been scrapped. Hamlet won’t have to wait any longer to be a Division I player.

“It was satisfying,” Hamlet said. “That was nice to know that I could go right into it. I feel like I can be a contributor right now. Just doing the little things for them, that’s what I feel like I can do.”

Updated 7:26 pm, May 9, 2012
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