Who had the best debut UH season: Zach Hamilton, Andre Vaughn or Brandon Sperling?
This past summer season saw some incredibly impressive debut seasons, some of which aren’t even in the conversation in this article. There were three players specifically who had some of the best debut seasons in the history of Ultimate Hoops history. I want to dig into all three players and decide who’s season was the best, while also praising them each individually.
Hamilton broke onto the scene this summer in the Baybrook Draft League, destroying the league from the get-go. In his first UH game he put up 62/12/7 with five steals and shot 22-30 from the field, 6-7 from deep and 13-15 from the free-throw line. It was clear that Hamilton was going to dominate all summer, and that’s exactly what happened. Hamilton would go on to average 52.4/12.4/5.3 with shooting splits of 51/39/86, just missing out on the 50/40/90 club. The 52.4 points per game was the highest in UH Nation in the summer, and all of his numbers added up to a PPR of 48.8, third-best in UH Nation.
Based on numbers alone, Hamilton had an unbelievable season to make his mark on UH in Baybrook. If his team, Baybrook, would’ve gone 2-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs, he would still have to be in this conversation. That wasn’t the case though, as Baybrook went 4-4 in the regular season and made a run to the championship game. Baybrook defeated the defending champs, Over-The-Hill-Gang, 87-76 to win the title. Hamilton put the team on his back, scoring 67 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the championship-winning performance. It was a fitting end to a great season for Hamilton.
Vaughn is a little bit tougher to write about, as he played in three different competitions in his debut season. He played the most games in the Summerlin Open League, adding three games in the Summerlin Rec League and six games in the New York National Tournament. We’ll completely ignore the rec league, as he stopped playing after Week 4.
Let’s start with his play in the open league. Vaughn played with BTE in Summerlin, joining the most dominant team in Las Vegas over the past year. Coming into this season, BTE had won three of the past four open titles in Summerlin, only losing two games in the span of a year. Adding Vaughn was like when the Warriors added Kevin Durant, and Vaughn played like KD throughout BTE’s title run this summer. Durant is an efficiency machine, and Vaughn fit that mold with BTE throughout the summer season. He averaged 26.6 points with shooting splits of 60/49/100. He’s one percent off from creating the 60/50/100 club! That’s insane! He helped BTE go 10-0 and win their fourth title in five years, scoring 21 points on 8-10 shooting in the title game.
On to the National Tournament, where Vaughan was a key part of the Villains’ run to the championship game. After a terrible start to the tournament, where Vaughn scored six points on 2-17 shooting, he turned it around and went on to average 20.8 points with shooting splits of 51/43/83 while helping the Villains reach the title game. An excellent debut for Vaughn on the national stage, especially after that nightmare start.
Another Vegas player had a very impressive start to his UH career, but his came in Green Valley. Sperling played exclusively in the Green Valley Open League this summer, putting up averages of 26.8/9.7/5.5 with shooting splits of 69/29/71. Shooting 69% from the field is crazy to think about, and maybe a crazier stat is that his worst shooting percentage was a measly 60% in a Week 4 89-86 loss. Imagine looking at a box score after a game, seeing you shot 9-15 from the field and thinking, “Man, that was pretty terrible.”
Sperling cruised through his competition for buckets throughout the season, and that continued into the playoffs, where he scored 25 points on 9-12 shooting in the semifinals and 28 points on 13-17 shooting in the championship game to secure the title against the 1-seed, and previously undefeated, Flight Vegas. If anyone was going to be able to slow down Sperling, it was Flight Vegas, and there was nothing they could do. A truly dominant debut season for Sperling ended in glory.
So who’s season was the best? If you go solely off numbers, it would be Hamilton. He had arguably the best numbers in all of UH this season. And while I don’t love that he took an average of 34.2 shots per game, it was clearly the best strategy to get his team a title. Vaughn gets a significant boost from the National Tournament, as he not only participated, but put up very good numbers against some of the best competition in the country. Sperling was consistent all season and had the toughest test in the title game of any of these players, defeating one of the most talented teams in Vegas to win a title.
Since all three of these players won a title this season, let’s compare the difficulty of each one to help narrow this down.
Hamilton beat a team that was 8-1 entering the title game, with Over-The-Hill-Gang’s only other loss coming to Hamilton and Baybrook in the regular season. His was also in a draft league, which are generally more balanced, but there were only four teams in the Baybrook Draft League this summer, watering down the title a bit.
Vaughn won a title with a team that had won three in the past four seasons before he joined. Despite the major impact he had this season, it’s reasonable to think BTE still would’ve won this season without him. They also didn’t play against the Villains, the second-best team in Summerlin, in the championship, but that’s to no fault of Vaughn or BTE.
Sperling’s title game was the hardest one to win, but I would say the Summerlin Open League wass slightly more talented than Green Valley this summer, making the run to get there not as tough. The advantage Sperling has is his team in Green Valley, Buckets, while being very good, is not the super team BTE is. I can conclusively say Sperling’s championship win was the most impressive.
That doesn’t end the debate though. Vaughn is the correct answer, and the National Tournament is the main reason. It’s hard to compare accomplishments across different leagues, as the talent level can be vastly different, and proving the talent level is even harder. National tournaments are the great equalizer, and Vaughn traveled all the way from Vegas to New York to play in six games and almost win a national title. When I was looking at Vaughn’s numbers in Summerlin before the tournament, I was skeptical that he was putting up crazy numbers in blowouts and against teams barely playing defense. His performance at Sky proved this not to be the case, and when you combine it with his absurdly efficient title-winning season with BTE, it elevates him over Hamilton and Sperling.