Any college coach – in any sport – never truly knows what type of production that they'll receive when signing a prospect. The coaches (and athletes, as well) always hope for the best, but in the end, sometimes the deal works out well and other times it doesn't.
There were certainly no guarantees for veteran Saint Francis men's basketball coach Chad LaCross when he was able to secure a commitment from Huntington University transfer Derek Hinen, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which the fifth-year senior guard isn't a tremendously valuable contributor to the Cougar program this coming season.
“Obviously, he's been a great player in our league for a long time,” LaCross said of his new guard. “He's really hurt us in some big games.”
Hinen spent three of the past four seasons starring for the fellow Crossroads League program, before sitting out last year as a transfer. The former Columbia City High School standout will have one year of eligibility for the Cougars.
Hinen admits that he “wasn't too heavily recruited out of high school,” but his perception among the Crossroads League coaches changed almost immediately once he got to Huntington.
As a freshman, he averaged over 34 minutes per game and scored nearly 13 points per game, while also leading the Foresters in assists. His surprising ability was a big factor in the Foresters being able to finish second in the conference that season and advance to the NAIA Division II National Tournament for the first time in seven seasons.
Playing with that chip on his shoulder after initially being overlooked has been very beneficial to Hinen, and it showed this past season, even in workouts with Saint Francis.
“The thing with Derek is that he brings such a competitive spirit to our practices,” LaCross said. “He's a great teammate and this has just been a great fit for him.”
Saint Francis graduated its leader in assists (Kegan Comer) from last year, while Hinen led Huntington in each of his three seasons in that category. LaCross said that his ability to run an offense is just one of Hinen's many skills, after all, he not only passed to teammates a lot, he also averaged a program-best 17 points per game in his sophomore and junior seasons.
“Derek can handle the ball,” LaCross said, “but he can also do a lot more. He's such a dynamic scorer. He can hurt you from the perimeter, but he can also post up.”
At 6-foot-3, Hinen often goes inside against smaller guards, but he also has made 110 3-point shots in his collegiate career.
“He has excellent footwork,” LaCross said. “He is crafty inside and always finds a way to get to the rim to score. He's just dynamic. He does a lot of different things.”
What Hinen didn't do in his last two seasons with the Foresters was win much.
As Huntington was struggling through losing seasons and finishing last in the 10-team league (Hinen's sophomore season) and seventh (his junior year), LaCross was guiding Saint Francis to an appearance in the Elite 8 of the national tournament, followed up by a spot in the national championship game.
Hinen took notice of all of that success.
“The intensity level at Saint Francis and physicality were two things that surprised me a little bit,” Hinen said of transitioning to the Cougar program. “Saint Francis has great coaches and a winning tradition. I'll get a chance to win championships. It's going to be an exciting year.”
The past year of not playing for the first time since grade school was difficult for Hinen to endure, but he made the most of it. He spent a lot of time working with Cougar assistant coach Jeremy Henney and as much as people will focus on his offensive ability this season, Hinen has been pleased with his improvement defensively over the past year.
“It was really hard sitting out,” Hinen said. “But the guys made it fun and made me feel part of the team still, even though I really couldn't contribute on the court on game days. That was hard.”
Last season may have been “hard” on Hinen, but that time is also over. The time has come for him to “contribute on the court on game days” and he most certainly will.
For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.