Freshman guard transitioning seamlessly into college game
This year’s men’s basketball team has a level of depth that past teams lacked, especially when it comes to scoring.
A key element of the Cougars’ team also happens to be one of its newest members, freshman guard Nate Hinton.
“He’s a freshman, but he can play,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “He’s a high-level player. Nate’s one of the best guard rebounders around.”
Sampson’s fondness for a player who can hit the boards should come as no surprise, as he has preached defense and rebounding above all else.
Off the bench, Hinton has averaged 4.3 rebounds per contest. That is good enough for fourth-best on the team and second-best among guards, trailing only junior Armoni Brooks.
In addition to rebounding, Hinton has racked up a respectable number of steals this season. He is leading the team with 1.4 steals per game, in large part due to his lively style of play.
Hinton was a four-star recruit out of North Carolina and led his high school team to back-to-back state semi-finals, as well as a state championship game.
Hinton received scholarship offers from Cincinnati, Boston College and Clemson — among others — but Sampson was the one who sold him on the program.
“In the recruiting process, coach (Sampson) told me about the vision and the plan about everything,” Hinton said. “This is my first college season. Everything is my first. I’m just trying to adjust to everything.”
Although he has spent just six months as a Cougar, Hinton appears well-adjusted. His impact on the hardwood has already been felt and praised.
“Highly energetic, high, high voltage freshman,” Sampson said. “There’s not one thing in this game that he’s not pretty good at.”
The head coach’s words ring true. Hinton is like a Swiss Army knife on the court.
Against NJIT he was a facilitator and pickpocket, finishing with five assists and three steals, both season-highs.
When Memphis came to town a week later, he was a scorer and rebounder, pouring in 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with nine boards.
The following game at Temple — the Cougars’ only loss of the season — Hinton stretched the floor and kept the defense honest as he shot 3-of-5 from distance for 60 percent.
“I just try to come out and compete and do my part for the team’s sake,” Hinton said.
While Hinton’s transition to college basketball has appeared seamless at times, being coached by a basketball mind like Sampson’s is a huge advantage.
“A lot of my peers are in different situations,” Hinton said. “Having the (good) leadership of the head coach and the staff is the key thing. I’m just enjoying the ride, and I’m just going to keep working.”
As well as Hinton has played so far, Sampson knows there is still plenty of room to grow.
“Nate’s going to be a really good player. You can see how much better he’s going to be,” Sampson said. “He just needs to understand what he can and can’t do. Sometimes when you’re a freshman you think you can do everything, and then you realize you can’t. He’s not there yet.”
The Cougars, now 18-1 on the season, are competing at a level that has not been seen since the 1980s when Phi Slama Jama was around.
Houston’s next game is tonight against ECU at the Fertitta Center at 7 p.m.