Prep basketball preview: Mission guard keeps his eye on the prize

He leaves the sentence hanging for a second, like in his mind he’s already beaten his man and can see the lane open up and a teammate in the corner calling for the ball.

It is in these moments, when Demaree Hampton is penetrating toward the basket while the defense scrambles to recover, that the Mission boys’ basketball star admits he doesn’t always know what he’s going to do. He just does it.

“Sometimes I get there and things kind of slow down,” said Hampton, his eyes flashing in the dark equipment room beneath the bleachers at Mission’s cramped gym. “And then I just … I just try to make something happen, you know?”

Like 33 points in a 70-56 come-from-behind win in front of a hostile crowd at Menlo-Atherton. Like 37 — including 27 in the second half — in a 79-69 decision over Oakland Tech. And like the quadruple-double (38 points, 13 steals, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) he dropped in last week’s 100-31 victory against Gateway. The 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior guard is averaging 25.9 points, 6.4 steals, 5.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game this season for the Bears (7-3), relying on a first step so quick it’s like he slicks his sneakers.

“Nothing he does surprises me anymore,” Mission coach Judson Steele said. “The speed he has with the ball is incredible and he’s even turned it up a notch from where he was last year. He’s just a special player.”

Hampton is one of five starters back for the Bears, who haven’t won a San Francisco Section title since 1993, but suddenly seem like the favorite on the eve of the Academic Athletic Association season. Mission regrouped from an up-and-down regular season a year ago to reach the section final, and a 72-69 overtime loss to Lowell in that game was on Hampton’s mind as he spun passes to himself and squared his shoulders for practice jumpers at the YMCA near his home in the Fillmore district this summer.

“I still remember that feeling and how frustrating that game was,” said Hampton, whose team then lost to West Valley in the first round of the NorCal Division III playoffs. “And I know this team has the talent to get back there and win it.”

Senior Harry Howard has been nearly as prolific as Hampton this season, averaging 21.8 points per game — including 40 in an 88-80 win over Woodcreek of Roseville. Post players Ronell Foster and Jordan Pusung are powerful rebounders and capable scorers. Swingman Grant Thomas can also shoot from the outside and get to the basket. And then there is Hampton, named first-team All-AAA after each of his two seasons, who makes things go.

“He’s awfully quick, very talented and very, very skilled,” Wallenberg coach Patrick Mulligan said. “And when he’s done at Mission, he definitely has a chance to play at the next level.”

But college still seems like a long way off for a kid who considers favorite player Allen Iverson’s Georgetown tenure old school. First, there’s a title drought to take care of.

“Coach works us hard, but he tells us to go out and have fun on the court,” Hampton said. “And if we keep doing that, we’ll be fine.”

melliser@examiner.com

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