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The Story of Blake Hinson: ‘This is Not an Act’

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PITTSBURGH — Blake Hinson made history on Saturday night.

Pitt basketball’s senior star and undisputed leader exploded for 41 points — a career high, pushing him over the 1,000-point total in his short Pitt career. Hinson hit nine of his 13 three-point attempts in the win, tying the Pitt program record for threes made in a single game — a record previously held by none other than Hinson himself.

“I actually didn’t realize I tied the three-point record,” Hinson said after the win, an 86-59 domination of Louisville. “Which was cool, which was my own, so, I mean, that’s cool.”

To his right at the press conference, head coach Jeff Capel and teammate Zack Austin immediately burst out laughing.

“Sorry if that came off arrogant,” Hinson laughed. “But, yeah, that’s cool. Honestly, I definitely knew I was putting up a lot of points but I didn’t know I was on any record-breaking streaks.”

Hinson’s basketball journey began long before he stepped foot in the Steel City in 2022. A native of Deltona, Florida, he grew up the son of a basketball coach and was always around the game. His father, Denny Hinson, spent more than ten years coaching at the collegiate and high-school levels and is now a prep school coach for Mid-Florida Academy. Denny began his collegiate coaching career with Florida Gulf Coast as an assistant in 2002, and followed that up with stints as an assistant at James Madison, Bethune-Cookman, and San Francisco.

After coaching in the collegiate ranks, Denny moved on to coach at Deltona High School – where Blake spent the first two years of his high-school career. There, he watched his son make it to the Florida State Tournament as a freshman, and a year later, average 29 points per game as a sophomore.

But before Hinson was starring on the hardwood, he was a highly-touted football prospect as a youngster. Standing at 6-foot-5 in eighth grade, Hinson was dubbed a “Middle School Phenom” and was already receiving interest from Power Five football programs.

“Around here, they make you play football,” Denny told Pittsburgh Sports Now in a phone interview. “You don’t really have a choice if you’ve got size. They’ll make you feel bad about living life if you don’t play football, so, he and his brother, they’re both basketball people that were made to play football.”

Hinson played wide receiver as a middle schooler, although coaches and recruiting services predicted he would play tight end at the collegiate level. Denny says that coaches knew he would get bigger and gain strength as he grew, and most projected that he would be around 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds by the time he was in college.

“They could see it coming,” he said.

Hinson’s talent was evident, and he came from a family full of strong genes. His older brother, Evan, was a dual-sport athlete in the SEC, playing hoops and football for the South Carolina Gamecocks. But now, it was Blake’s turn. The younger Hinson brother worked on his craft on both the court and the field, and turned himself into one of the most intriguing young athletes in the country.

“When Blake was in the eighth grade, when [Jim] Harbaugh got the job at Michigan, Blake was the first kid he offered,” Denny said. “Blake was an eighth grader.”

Hinson continued to play both sports into the beginning of his high-school career, earning offers from programs such as Florida, Miami, Georgia, and plenty of others along the way. He used his football skills and his powerful frame to become a dominant force on the hardwood as well, quickly catching the eye of college hoops coaches like his father.

Right before his junior year, Blake decided to transfer to Sunrise Christian, a basketball powerhouse located in Bel Aire, Kansas. The program has served as a home to plenty of NBA players before their respective breakthroughs, such as Buddy Hield, Gradey Dick and others. There, Hinson joined forces with numerous highly-rated recruits, including current Oregon star N’Faly Dante.

“They had an unbelievable team,” Denny said. “They were the number two team in the country, loaded with all kinds of players going to Oregon, Texas, all over. He decided late that his junior year was going to be his last year. So, he had some great options.”

Hinson eventually decided to forego his senior year and re-classify so that he could play basketball for Ole Miss that next year, just months after he was a junior in high school. In Oxford, he started 31 games as a freshman in 2018-19, averaging 8.3 points per game. The next season, he added 27 more starts to his resume, now averaging in double-digits as far as scoring went. He then entered the transfer portal, looking for a new home. Hinson wound up at Iowa State. There, however, he suffered an injury that kept him out for his first season in Ames. As he was preparing for the next year with the Cyclones, Hinson decided to transfer again. However, this time, he had graduated.

“I think the smart thing about it, is, he decided to go, but he had graduated,” Denny said. “So, he’s looking for a school and he’s got two years left and had already graduated.”

So here Hinson is in 2022. All of a sudden, he has now gone two seasons without playing a single collegiate game after starting 58 games as a freshman and sophomore in the SEC. But Blake was not going to quit.

“We never mentioned that he would stop playing,” Denny said. “I’m going to be honest with you. I know a lot of college coaches, and at least seven of them were checking in on Blake. I was giving Blake that information. What’s lost in it is that he knew he was going to get another opportunity. It wasn’t like he was a kid just running around at LA Fitness and thought he wouldn’t play again. He was talking to SEC, Big 12, Big East coaches knowing that he was going to get an opportunity. He was motivated to continue to stay in shape, get ready for his next opportunity, work out. I think that’s kind of lost in the story. He knew that he would get another opportunity at a high-level school.”

Then came Jeff Capel and Pitt.

While serving as an assistant coach at James Madison, Denny recalls a young Capel coaching against his teams — more specifically, beating his teams.

“I was in the league with Coach [Capel],” Denny said. “So, I’ve been a fan of his from afar. I watched his teams at VCU, I was in the league getting beat down by Coach. His teams just seemed like they were well-coached, they loved playing for him, and I thought of that when there was a chance for Blake to play for him.”

Capel and his staff re-connected with Hinson, years after recruiting him a bit while he was at Sunrise Christian, and now wanted to bring him in to become the newest Panther. Pitt had just finished year four of the Capel era with an 11-21 record — going just 6-14 in ACC play. Pitt had to turn things around, and quickly. Hinson, down in Florida at the time — was in a similar position.

“There was overwhelming support from other coaches around the country that thought that Blake would be a good fit at Pitt, and thought, at the time, that Pitt was going to need him,” Denny said. “I remember that stuck out most in my mind. A kid like Blake, you don’t really want to send Blake to a place he’s not needed. I’ve had the impression of Coach, I’ve watched Coach from afar, I was an assistant in the league that Coach won, so I always knew coach was a winner. I loved the way his teams played. Then, to hear that from other coaches who were talking about Coach when he wasn’t present. They were saying that he’s a good coach, could give him [Blake] a good opportunity, and they felt it’d be a good fit.”

Hinson committed to the Panthers in April of 2022, joining the team led by Jamarius Burton, Nike Sibande, John Hugley, and others. The Pitt staff also added Greg Elliott and hometown recruit Nelly Cummings to the roster that offseason, and it was now or never for the program. The roster had all of the talent that Capel needed, and in year five, it was time to shine.

On November 7, 2022, Hinson and the Panthers dominated UT Martin in the season-opener behind a career-high 27 point explosion from the Deltona kid. In the game, Hinson went 4 for 12 from three-point land, attempting more threes in that matchup than he had in any game in his time in an Ole Miss uniform.

As the season went on, Hinson continued to thrive from outside alongside Pitt’s veteran guards and a new big man by the name of Federiko Federiko. Against Northwestern, in a game that Capel later referred to as the turning point of the season, Hinson hit four of his five three-point attempts on the road to lead Pitt to the dominant victory over the Wildcats. Against Wake Forest, he went 8 for 14 from the field, and all 14 of his attempts — and of course, all eight of his makes — were threes.

Hinson and the Panthers ran all the way to the NCAA Tournament, and by then, the Florida native was a well-known star with an infectious personality. His press conferences were full of humor and wit, showcasing his sharpness.

In Pitt’s First Four game against Mississippi State, Panther fans made the four-hour trek down to Dayton to watch their team compete in an NCAA Tournament atmosphere for the first time since 2016. There, the Panthers battled all the way until the end with the SEC’s powerful Bulldogs, fighting for a chance at the Round of 64 in the Big Dance. With 3:11 to play, Pitt led by three points, 55-52. In this moment — the single most high-pressure moment that the team had faced all year — Cummings found Hinson at the “S” of the March Madness logo at center court. With 14 seconds left on the shot clock, Hinson rose up for an unbelievably deep and risky three pointer.

Bang. Drilled it.

 

Timeout Mississippi State. The Panther faithful in attendance lost their minds. The Hinson family, watching back home on the couch in Florida, did too.

“I just turned and looked at my wife and I think my mouth just flew open that he did that,” Denny said. “I’ve coached him for years too. I was just amazed that that happened. I’m going to be honest, I was just like, ‘Oh my God, did that just happen?’”

Pitt won the game on a game-winner from Burton and two nerve-racking misses at the buzzer by the Bulldogs. After that, the Panthers were onto Greensboro for the real deal. There, Pitt took down Iowa State, Hinson’s former team, 59-41 in the Round of 64. Next up was Xavier, led by former Panther Sean Miller. The Musketeers got the best of Pitt, eliminating the Panthers from the dance and ending their magical run. Hinson’s first year back on a collegiate basketball court was finally over.

In a locker room full of sad sniffles, Hinson was composed and quiet as media members approached him to ask about the loss as his teammates exchanged hugs.

“You know, it’s funny, because every time we get beat by a team that played better than us, I kind of just accept it,” Blake said. “But, you’re never going to play with this group again, and this group has literally changed my life, so, it hurts. They brought me out of my childhood apartment and brought me to the NCAA Tournament, that’s how they changed my life. They accepted me and they let me be a big part of the team.”

Hinson’s words struck deep within the Pitt fan base. He had become a fan-favorite in just one season, partially because of his playing style, but mostly because of his authenticity.

“I think it’s because he is truly sincere,” his father said. “He wears his emotions on his sleeve. If somebody was to pay him to try to deceive you, it’s just not in his nature. He is sincere. He loves Coach, he loves Pittsburgh, I think his personality, it fit the town. He’s a blue-collar worker and he’s going to bring it every day and he’s thankful for it. He’s thankful for this opportunity. I think it also has something to do with sitting out a couple of seasons. He’s seen how fast it can go away, and I think he’s very appreciative of his opportunity.”

With Burton, Cummings, Elliott, and Sibande running out of eligibility this year, the Panthers now had one senior on scholarship heading into the 2023-24 season: Hinson. To get back to the tournament, Pitt would have to lean on its veteran forward alongside a pair of talented freshman, two new transfers, and several returners. It didn’t take long for this year’s team to understand the message and spread the word: this is Blake’s team.

Hinson and the Panthers started off the year hot, dominating lesser opponents in the non-conference slate. Then came the high-major tests.

From Nov. 22 to Dec. 3, Pitt lost three of four games, falling to Florida, Missouri, and Clemson. Quickly, fans and media members from around the country started to question this year’s roster and wondered if the talent level was just not high enough. However, Hinson — relying on his patience, leadership skills, and ability to trust his and his teammates’ work — knew that this was not the last that the nation would hear of Pitt in the 2023-24 season.

After Pitt’s loss to Missouri, Hinson delivered a quote that only Blake Hinson — minutes after losing a game — could deliver. When asked about Pitt’s young guards struggling in the face of defensive pressure early on in their careers, Hinson had their backs. He immediately thought to defend his teammates and stand up for them, delivering wisdom in one of the hardest moments to do so — a moment in which one could easily have let the emotions of a home loss get the best of them. But Hinson is different. He was not going to miss the opportunity to be there for his teammates.

“They’re not struggling, they’re learning,” he 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 they’re going to become the better freshmen’s in the conference. [I] tell them, ‘Next play!’ Because 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.”

Hinson’s leadership has been on full display on and off the court throughout the entire year, and he has stayed consistent in his mindset and his play despite being in a new role with lots of outside pressure on him this year as the lone senior. In January, when Pitt needed its leader most on a weekend trip down to Durham, North Carolina, he stepped right up.

“I’ve watched him get hot, get 40-point games,” Denny said. “I know when he gets rolling, I can kind of see it early. I can see it in his movements. Get a couple going early, and I know it’s one of those days. So, to watch him at Duke, when the first two or three went in, I start holding on to my couch. I knew it was going to be one of those nights.”

Hinson took the college basketball world by storm on that cold night in Durham. Inside the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, Hinson led his Pitt Panthers — who came into the game just 1-4 in their last five games — to an astounding victory with a heroic performance. The 6-foot-7 senior delivered a magical 7 for 7 night from three-point range, burying the 7th-ranked Blue Devils on their own court.

As the buzzer sounded, Hinson immediately ran over to the Cameron Crazies — Duke’s raucous student section — and blew the trash-talking students a kiss while standing on a court-side table. After just minutes, photos and videos of the moment spread like wildfire.

“That was unbelievable,” his father said. “You wouldn’t believe how many calls I got. How many coaches and players that remember Blake from when I coached 12 years. They remember Blake running around. Now they can see the Hinson, the H-I-N-S-O-N, they know that’s one of my clan. I probably got fifty to sixty text messages about that.”

Since the win over Duke, Pitt has won six of seven games. The Panthers are the hottest team in the conference, and have risen all the way from 1-5 in league play to 8-6, now standing in a tie for fourth place in the league. This special run, kickstarted by Hinson’s magical performance at Duke, has included wins on the road at Georgia Tech, NC State, and No. 21 Virginia, and victories over Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and now Louisville at home.

Hinson will only play three more games in the Petersen Events Center in his lifetime, but his name and his legacy will live on forever in the building. From his record-setting scoring performances to his ever-so-often three pointers from the half-court logo to his one-of-a-kind leadership style, Hinson will be remembered forever as a Pitt man — one who left it all on the floor and did everything for his team when the program needed it most.

“This is not an act,” his father said. “This is Blake, and this has always been Blake.”

Pitt will honor Hinson on March 9 before its game against NC State — the final home game of the season. For the first time, he will be honored on Senior Day, and one can only imagine the ovation that he will receive that night up on top of Cardiac Hill.

“I just want the people of Pittsburgh to understand that Blake and his family – me being a spokesperson for the family – has appreciated all of the support there in the city,” Denny said. “My wife and I have been coming to a few games there. We go to the main street on campus and people are coming up to him saying nice things to him all the time, being very supportive. So, on Senior Night, and I know Blake feels the same way, just very appreciative of the opportunity and being able to join that Pitt family and be a part of something special.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Michael
Michael
1 month ago

Blake is one of the most enjoyable players I have ever seen. When we won at Louisville, he celebrated Diaz-Graham’s monster dunk by throwing him halfway across the floor. The ref just saw Diaz-Graham go flying and thought a fight was breaking out. He was ready to call a T and break up the fight but Diaz-Graham was laughing and saying “Teammate! Teammate!” Hinson’s leadership is underrated and his personality is infectious. I dont know if we will make the tournament or not, but this team has been a blast to watch. H2P!

kevin
kevin
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael

Yes they are fun to watch! I just hope they make the tournament and show the rest of the country how they just have fun on the court.
We need the hometown HS kid to stay home next year and not go for the quick $$$$. The NBA money far outweighs the NIL money, so follow Blake’s lead.
H2P!!!

LuAnn Bair
LuAnn Bair
1 month ago

I’m very thankful that Blake chose Pitt and Pitt chose Blake. The team last year stole our hearts and gave us hope of the Panthers return in the basketball world. However this year who would of known the team and it’s leader Blake once again stole our hearts and has shown the Fans and the world that our Panthers are for real and there isn’t a fan in the world who could HONESTLY say that this team is one of the hottest and most entertaining and explosive in the college basketball world. Thank you Blake for taking us on a… Read more »

TJ
TJ
1 month ago

Good story … so true about Blake and the team. It is one, like last year’s, that you want to support through the good and the bad. They seem to enjoy each other and play as a true team. Not sure if they will go dancing or not, regardless, it has been a fun season and one that will be remembered for a long while. H2P!

eric
eric
1 month ago

Excellent article George! it’s nice to get some insight and the backstory on Blake, his fam, etc. Thoroughly enjoyed the read. Let’s hope Blake and the team finish strong Sat vs NC State and show well in the ACC…then make a tourney run.
#H2P

Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Mark

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