PITTSBURGH — Blake Hinson is known for his shooting ability — and rightfully so — but perhaps the most intriguing development in the story of Hinson has been his development into a true leader.
The Panthers’ 6-foot-8 matchup nightmare is leading the entire country in three-point field goals made so far this year, with 39. He’s hitting deep shots at an elite rate — 45% — and is hitting them from all over, from the corners to the wings to the logo. In Pitt’s crucial bounce-back win over West Virginia, Hinson hit nine of his 15 three-point attempts to lead the Panthers with 29 points on the road. After the game, West Virginia’s Quinn Slazinski said “He shot the ball better than Kevin Durant does.” The morning after, Durant himself responded on Twitter.
“He must’ve really cooked them people to Get compared to the god,” Durant said before deleting the tweet.
It’s safe to say that Hinson’s sniping ability from three-point range is well-documented at this point. But Hinson’s leadership — above all — may be the most impressive and notable thing about his start to the season.
Last year’s Pitt team had several well-known leaders. Jamarius Burton seemed to be the guy that most players, and Jeff Capel, called the team’s leader. Nelly Cummings, a hometown player and an experienced veteran, also could keep his composure during pressure-filled moments and lead his team, vocally and by example. The rest of last year’s seniors — Greg Elliott, Nike Sibande, and even walk-on Aidan Fisch — also showcased leadership skills in different moments.
But now, this is Blake’s team. All five of those seniors are gone, and he is the man in charge. We’ve known this since day one of the season, and even beforehand, when teammate Zack Austin answered a question regarding who leads the Panthers.
“B2 [Hinson] for sure,” Austin said. “I feel like everybody knows this is his team, and we go as he goes. No disrespect to anybody else but everybody knows that he’s the guy.”
Then came Hinson’s on-court dominance. He picked up right where he left off last season, opening his senior campaign with a three pointer from the logo, causing the Oakland Zoo to throw its confetti high in the air as the Panthers took the lead in game No. 1 of the year. Now, we’re seeing his leadership each and every game.
“I think Blake is one of the better players in the ACC, I think he can be one of the better players in the country,” head coach Jeff Capel said after beating West Virginia. “He’s off to an outstanding season. But probably the thing that he’s done best is lead. That’s where he has really, really grown as a player. He has so much pride in the University of Pittsburgh, and so much gratefulness about the city of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh, and our program, and it permeates throughout everyone on our team.”
Hinson is averaging 21.4 points per game — the most on the team, the most in the ACC, and the 14th most in the country. However, his leadership style has been on display seemingly at all times this season. His energetic personality and playing style have led to his emergence as a fan-favorite, and as a player who seems to shock opponents, announcers, and fans each and every game.
But for Pitt’s other players — for its core that is made up of mostly transfers and freshmen — Hinson has been the rock. Even when he launches from the logo (which seems to happen each game now), his teammates know that because of the hard work that Hinson puts in, the odds are, something special is going to happen each time he elevates for a shot.
“Blake is always the first one here,” freshman Bub Carrington said on Friday. “You walk in, he’s already walking in the locker room drenched full of sweat. You see him work so hard, you’re like, that’s going to go in. He works for that. He’s going to get rewarded for all fo the work that he does.”
Teammate Guillermo Diaz-Graham shared a similar story from the day after the win over West Virginia, again, showcasing Hinson’s leadership.
“I got here at like 10:30, 11,” Diaz-Graham said. “I walk into the locker room, the locker room is empty. I’m like, damn, I’m the first one here. Damn, yeah. Ten seconds later, Blake walks into the locker room full of sweat. I’m like, come on bro.”
“I feel like he leads by example,” Diaz-Graham continued. “He shows how to do things: how to treat teammates, how to work, work ethic. And then, he also is motivational. He says the right things in the right moment, he brings the energy up, too, you know, it’s a leader you want to follow. First of all, because we love him, so we really want to follow him till the end.”
Hinson’s on-court abilities have been evident from the moment he stepped on Pitt’s campus, even after not playing in an organized basketball game for two seasons prior to joining the Panthers. But now, as he grows off the court as well, all those inside and outside of the program have been able to witness Pitt’s star player grow with each and every game. Even in recent press conferences, Hinson has showcased his guidance.
After a recent loss to Missouri, Hinson took the stage as the lone player to join Capel in the press room. In that game, Pitt’s Carrington hit just four of his 14 shot attempts, including one of his seven three-point attempts, in the Panthers’ loss. Jaland Lowe, another freshman, played 11 minutes in the loss, scoring four points and turning the ball over twice. When asked about the freshmen’s struggles, Hinson made clear one thing:
“They’re not struggling, they’re learning,” Hinson said. “They’re learning. They’re better than me at handling the ball, let me tell you that. They’re going to be fine. They’re just going to get these learning lessons and become the best freshmen in the conference.”
“I tell them, next play!” Hinson continued. “I already know that every time something goes wrong for them, that’s going to make them better the next play. They’re 18, so that’s what it is. Good. Get them now, because they’re getting better every time.”
With 12 minutes to play against the Mountaineers on Wednesday night, Hinson, alongside senior walk-on KJ Marshall and Capel, stood up in the team huddle during a timeout. Pitt had a six-point lead at the time, and couldn’t quite pull away from the feisty Mountaineers just yet.
However, following the timeout, Pitt went on a 15-4 run over the next five minutes, building a double-digit lead en route to the victory.
“I think he leads by example,” Capel said about Hinson back on Oct. 13. “Blake’s a guy, he’s a worker, he’s a believer, he’s a talker, he’s really confident. So I think he leads in all of those ways. He’s a guy, because of what he’s done, because of achievement and accomplishment, that all of these guys look up to and they respect. They know it’s something that he earned, it wasn’t something that was given to him. He’s a guy that commands a locker room, commands a huddle. We need him to do it his way. It’s something that he’s learning. Last year, he had a big voice, but he didn’t have to do it in a manner in which we need him to do it this year. We’re just trying to help him do it his way — it’s not going to be like Nelly, or JB, Nike, or Greg — it has to be authentic to who he is. You guys know him, he’s a big personality, he’s incredibly positive guy, and he’s a guy that all of these guys respect and look up to.””
How does #Pitt’s Blake Hinson lead?
Capel gives his thoughts on Hinson’s leadership style 🗣️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/MWNYpymU6M
— George Michalowski (@MichalowskiCBB) October 13, 2023
Hinson and the Panthers will take on Canisius on Saturday night at 6 p.m. with the chance to advance to 7-3 on the season.