NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
By Bethany Bradsher
The old Sam Hinnant is back
Sophomore injury behind
him, junior guard returns to form
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Photo: ECU SID
When Sam Hinnant came to East Carolina for his
first recruiting visit, Coach Mack McCarthy was tapped to drive him back to
Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
When they reached a tiny Exxon station near the
gates of the school, McCarthy had to stop so that Hinnant could duck inside
and change into his uniform — no student was permitted on campus in civilian
But in the three years since Hinnant became a
Pirate, he hasn’t been someone who’s known for making changes. In fact, both
player and coach have to ponder when asked how Hinnant’s role or his
contribution look different than they did when he was a freshman.
“He played like a veteran guy as a freshman,”
McCarthy said. “He was very mature, very consistent and just was solid.
That’s probably the word I think of most of the time when I think about Sam,
he’s someone you can count on every single day for a good effort and a good
College coaches know that Fork Union products
are well coached, and McCarthy could see that Hinnant had sound
fundamentals, he said. But before Hinnant put on his first Pirates jersey,
McCarthy couldn’t pinpoint his true potential.
Tom Hammonds’ ankle helped answer that question,
when a slight injury before a 2005 scrimmage led then-coach Ricky Stokes and
McCarthy to put Hinnant into the lineup. It was a one-time call that soon
became a habit.
“He never came out of the lineup,” McCarthy
said. “He was just so solid the rest of the year.”
That rookie season yielded the kind of stats
that make coaches feel like recruiting geniuses: 10.2 points per game, a
team-high 50 three-point shots, a spot on the Conference USA All-Freshman
Then a sophomore hurdle rose up before Hinnant.
He struggled some early with a nagging injury, then broke his leg just
before the Conference USA opener. He played in just 14 games and averaged
4.8 points per game.
“Last year, I think it was clear that this team
missed him,” McCarthy said.
If there was any doubt that Hinnant was back as
a junior, the word came out loud and clear in the Dec. 8 game against North
Carolina State, when Hinnant seemingly couldn’t miss and led his team to a
75-69 victory. He finished that emotion-charged win with a career-high 30
points, including the go-ahead three-pointer with 2:09 left in the game.
In the first 13 games of this season, Hinnant
averaged nearly 12 points a game and shot close to 42 percent from the
three-point line, even if few early games had the spark of the Wolfpack win.
That’s one of the areas, noted McCarthy, in
which he would like to help Hinnant improve — aligning his work ethic with
the results in the stats column.
“He is consistent in his effort, he’s consistent
in his execution, but in terms of productivity I think he could be a little
more consistent,” McCarthy said.
Hinnant can’t quite explain why, on nights like
the Wolfpack victory, it seems like nothing can get between him and the
basket, but in other important games the shooting touch starts out lukewarm
and cools off from there. Certainly, a large part of scoring momentum
originates above the shoulders, he said.
“Every player doesn’t have a game like that
every night, but you never know, it could be your night or it could be
somebody else’s night,” Hinnant said.
“Luckily that was my night. There are a lot of
mental things that go with that. Once you hit a couple in a row, it’s to the
point where you think you’re going to make every shot after that.”
When Hinnant looks back over his college career
so far, the greatest shift has been in his drive to be a leader. He has
taken younger players like Jontae Sherrod under his wing, and he has
transferred his solid, consistent persona on the court to an upperclassmen
who can relish East Carolina's challenge tonight in a road contest against a
heavily-favored Memphis team, regardless of the outcome.
“Everybody should be psyched up to play the
number two team in the country,” he said. “There’s probably going to be a
big atmosphere there. It’s going to be fun.”
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01/09/2008 03:20:34 AM