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Shaw University strikes Philly gold again with guard Amir Hinton

From Flip Murray to Hinton, the city’s basketball exports find their way to North Carolina

Just as he had done countless times before, Shaw University’s Amir Hinton brought the ball up the court toward the Livingstone College defender, went into his bag of tricks and pulled off the NBA’s most infamous go-to move, the step-back jumper.

Hinton would finish with 28 points en route to a 96-61 victory for the Bears. For the leading scorer in NCAA Division II, this performance would bring down his average, as Hinton currently paces the Bears with 31 points per game. For Hinton, a native of Philadelphia, his game speaks to his city roots.

“I’m a Philly dude,” said Hinton. “We just hoop different.”

Hooping different is what took Hinton from a lightly recruited prospect at Abington High to Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania. In two seasons there, Hinton quickly became a premier scorer, averaging 23.4 points per game as a sophomore. However, Hinton grew uneasy with the environment and looked for a change of scenery. Hinton was attracted to Shaw in Raleigh, North Carolina, its pace of play and a chance to grow his game under coach Joel Hopkins.

“I saw myself playing for a Coach Hopkins and a team like Shaw, and I signed on the dotted line. That was it,” Hinton said.

The net result? Hinton’s on pace to become just the third Division II player in the past 20 seasons to average more than 30 points per game. Talk about a Philly Special landing in the lap of Hopkins.

What you have to understand about Hopkins is that he’s a basketball lifer. He was a player on North Carolina Central’s 1989 Division II national championship team. During his time as a high school coach at Mount Zion Academy in Durham, North Carolina, he won National Coach of the Year honors. Moreover, he had the chance to develop Tracy McGrady, the all-world scorer who went prep to pro in 1997. Then, during Hopkins’ first stint as Shaw’s coach in 2002, another Philadelphia product who “hooped different” matriculated at Shaw. His name is Ronald “Flip” Murray.

“It’s funny,” Hinton said with a chuckle. “I watched him play a lot growing up, especially in the summer leagues in Philadelphia. I didn’t even know he went to Shaw until I got here, and then I found out that a bunch of guys from Philly have come through here.”

The two have made contact, and Murray has been sure to give some tips to the young Bear. However, some things don’t need to be taught.

“I’m not an AAU guy. I grew up on concrete basketball, and I carried that over into organized basketball,” said Hinton.

There are things about Hinton that remind people of other Philly guards such as Murray, Kyle Lowry, Dion Waiters and the legendary Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. There’s craftiness in his process of getting buckets. Never moving too fast, always cool under pressure, ready to counter what the defense has schemed to slow him down.

“I’ve grown as a man at this school, especially in being open-minded and interacting with people from different parts of the country and the world. Plus, people in the Shaw community are in tune with basketball, and it sparks awesome conversation. I love it.” — Amir Hinton

“I’m trying to trick the defense,” Hinton said with pride. “I’m constantly trying to put the defender on their heels, playing those mind games, because I’m going to get to my spots, and I’m either going to score or they’re going to foul me.”

Getting fouled constantly and having a signature step-back jumper reminds one of the leading candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award, Houston Rockets guard James Harden. As with Harden, Hinton’s ability to get to the free throw line allows him to put up absurd stat lines like he did versus Virginia Union in January.

Hinton netted 35 points against the Panthers, but he did it shooting just 3 of 10 from the field and making just one of his four 3-point attempts in a 92-79 loss on Jan. 10. However, Hinton went to the free throw line 32 times, making 28 free throws during the evening to set an all-time record at Shaw.

The scary thing for Shaw’s competition is that Hinton is just a junior, and his maturity on the court is paralleled by his growth on campus. That means moving from Philadelphia to a predominantly white institution in Lock Haven to a historically black university in North Carolina.

“I’ve grown as a man at this school, especially in being open-minded and interacting with people from different parts of the country and the world. Plus, people in the Shaw community are in tune with basketball, and it sparks awesome conversation. I love it.”

NBA scouts have begun to sit in practice and in the stands for games to witness Hinton’s exploits. While the lure of professional basketball is obvious, a different motivation rings true for Hinton.

“What really keeps me going is my mom, my family,” he said. “Just knowing I could do something for my family, giving my mom things they’ve never had. It’s my family that’s pushing me, that and winning a ring at Shaw. Winning in the postseason.”

If Hinton keeps pushing, he’s going to leave Shaw as not only one of its finest basketball products but also one of the greatest scorers in college basketball. It goes to show how “hooping different” can take you to places far beyond one’s imagination.

Eddie Maisonet is an associate editor for ESPN. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 snapbacks and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”