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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Men's Basketball

Behind Hinton’s rise from struggling freshman to sophomore ‘alpha dog’

Guard Nate Hinton went from a struggling freshman to one of the best rebounding guards in the nation and Houston's X-best scorer as a sophomore. | Mikol Kindle Jr./The Cougar

Guard Nate Hinton went from a struggling freshman to one of the best rebounding guards in the nation and tied for Houston’s third-best scorer as a sophomore. | Mikol Kindle Jr./The Cougar

Houston’s success in 2019-20, which includes a couple of wins against Top 25 teams and tied for the top spot in the American Athletic Conference so far, has fed off the performances of several players, but one has stood above the rest — Nate Hinton.

Hinton, who is averaging the second-most rebounds per game (9.4) in The American, 10.7 points and has started in every game, has been a force on the court and a spark plug for the No. 25 Cougars.

“Nate is an alpha dog; he’s comfortable being up front,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson. “Not all dogs can be up front, some need to be in the middle where you can hide their weaknesses. So, if Nate was a sled dog, he’d be very comfortable up front.”

But it has not always been that way for the sophomore.

“I just think it’s the experience,” Sampson said. “Nate struggled early last year, as all freshman will. But he played on a team where he learned a lot from all of those seniors. Galen (Robinson) and Corey (Davis Jr.) were unbelievable role models for him.”

Hinton saw firsthand what it takes to succeed throughout Houston’s Sweet Sixteen run last season, coming off the bench and playing quality minutes while learning and practicing with 2018-19’s seniors.

The guard, who is No. 46 in the country in rebounds, has been a leader for UH this season. Hinton attributes much of his improvement to playing with the best Cougars’ team in over 30 years that was stacked full of veterans, who excelled at their roles on the team.

“It’s just the details,” Hinton said. “If there were certain things I didn’t pick up all the way, they’d get on me, or if I didn’t know how to do something, I would ask them a question and there would just be open arms.

“Them embracing me and the leadership of how they did things, led by example, and just talked to me to help me out and help everyone else out.”

For Sampson, Hinton’s potential became immediately visible, and he knew the Gastonia, North Carolina, native could one day be better than the veteran corps already under the coach’s wing.

Hinton, Sampson said, could make the kind of impact that not many others do. 

“When I recruited Nate out of high school, you could tell he was going to be better than them,” Sampson said. “Just because you are a senior doesn’t mean you are going to be a leader, because some guys just don’t have that personality.” 

With the Cougars sitting at 16-4 overall and 6-1 in the AAC, Hinton looks to continue developing into the leader Sampson recruited him to be and to lead UH into the next stretch of conference play.

“I’m just trying to be the best version of myself I can be and not worry about anything on the outside,” Hinton said. “Just focus on winning and just leading the team.”

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