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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

By Bethany Bradsher

Detour through Fork Union paying off for Hinnant


Sam Hinnant is still a freshman, but he is a little more seasoned than most college newcomers. It was that “freshman-plus” status that helped commend Hinnant to Ricky Stokes as one of his first recruits.

A year spent at Fork Union Military Academy has helped rookie guard Sam Hinnant carve out a key role for East Carolina sooner than expected. (Photo: ECU)

“The most important thing about Fork Union is that you know what you’re getting,” Stokes said, referring to Hinnant's stint at the renowned military prep school. “You’re getting a guy who’s used to discipline, who’s been well-coached, who understands the words ‘student-athlete.

“Having the extra year of high school helps kids, and he’s a year older, so he’s not your typical freshman.”

“I don’t think I was really ready for college ball coming out of high school,” Hinnant said. “When I went to Fork Union, I think it really transitioned me for college, outside of basketball, just college life, living on my own and being away from home.”

Hinnant, who averaged 22 points a game and helped win a state championship at Vance High School in Charlotte, has showed the benefit of that experience on the floor for the Pirates this season. To date, he is averaging 10.6 points and 30.7 minutes a game, ranking third and second on the squad in those categories, respectively.

He has been a more important cog in the team’s machinery than expected during his first year, Stokes said, but the minutes he has played will speed his transition into a pillar of future Pirate squads.

Growing up, Hinnant knew about ECU but didn’t picture himself a Pirate — until he went to Fork Union and received a visit from Stokes and his new staff. He returned the favor and visited campus, and the chemistry between recruit and school was undeniable.

“I fell in love with the coaches, and I came on a visit,” Hinnant said. “I committed on my visit because I loved the campus so much.”

He found himself on a young team with new coaches, and with his 18 points in the UNC-Greensboro game on Dec. 6, he defined himself as a potential difference maker on the floor. In his signature performance of the season so far, he scored 18 to help propel the Pirates past UNC-Wilmington on Dec. 31.

Like any young player, he still has some rough edges to be smoothed out, Stokes said, but his statistics have moved in the right direction over the course of the season.

“I think he’s gotten better,” Stokes said. “Anytime you’re a freshman you have some highs and lows, and no question he’s had some highs and lows. We hope that it will be a natural progression for him to get a little bigger, a little stronger and more of a leader.”

As Hinnant starts to put all of the parts of his game together, he is hopeful that the same convergence will happen with the Pirates team as a whole. His hope for the remainder of the season is that he and his teammates will start to assemble complete games.

“We’re right there, we just can’t finish the game it seems like,” he said of the 7-14 Pirates. “I just feel we’re almost there and I think when we get there we’re going to get on a good streak. I think we get better each day and (are) growing together as a team.”

At this point, Hinnant is just thankful to have a week with no competition in the middle of the week. It’s as close as a basketball team gets to a bye week, and it comes at a welcome juncture, he noted, with six games left in the season.

“I think it’s a time to work hard in practice but also to get our legs back for this last stretch in the season," Hinnant said. "Hopefully it will be a time to get better, and work on our things that we have flaws on.”

McNeil, Hart update

According to a report from WITN-TV 7, Japhet McNeil and Jonathan Hart might be back in the lineup soon. Coach Ricky Stokes announced on Monday that the two players would be suspended indefinitely due to “conduct detrimental to the team.”

The station reported Tuesday that McNeil and Hart were disciplined for missing an early-morning running workout that was scheduled after all of the Pirates had been acting up during a film session the day before.

If the suspension is indeed for just one game, McNeil — the Conference USA assists leader — and Hart will return for next Wednesday’s game against Rice.

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02/23/2007 01:12:47 AM

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