Late-bloomer Hinton puts it all together with Abington

Sometimes, it isn’t obvious.

Basketball is a game that rewards the amount of work put in towards becoming better at it. While some are gifted with talent and ability from the instant they touch a ball, for countless others, improvement comes from hours upon hours in the gym, working and honing a craft that even at the highest levels, is still imperfect.

At the high school level, for every four-year star, there seems to be a late bloomer, a kid with glimpses of skill that explodes at the end of their career. It’s the classic tale of the late bloomer, someone who has it all come together at the right time.

Much like he rises up to catch and slam an alley-oop pass, Abington senior Amir Hinton followed a quick and explosive ascent. After a dominant senior year that saw him help lead the Galloping Ghosts to a District I Class AAAA title, Hinton has been selected The Reporter/Montgomery Media Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“It’s all confidence, I have to make sure my confidence is high because without confidence I wouldn’t play well,’ Hinton said during the season. “My coaches keep telling me to play with confidence and shoot the ball with confidence so that’s what I’ve been doing. As one of the captains and leaders on the team, it’s my way of showing the younger guys ways of stepping up.’

For the first three years of his career, Hinton was a role player, that is when he even got on the floor. He didn’t play varsity as a freshman and as a sophomore, he saw limited time as a wire thin young player on a veteran team.

“To have someone I know I can count on for scoring, bringing up the ball, defense, whatever it may be, he does it,’ Abington senior Matt Penecale said after the team’s district championship. “From ninth grade to now, he’s grown like six or seven inches. He’s the definition of a late bloomer.’

He’s still skinny, but anyone that looks at him and expects an easy time is liable to get schooled. Last year, when the Ghosts made a surprising run to the state semifinals, Hinton took on a bigger role, but still didn’t play a starring role, letting Penecale and then senior Anthony Lee act as the main options.

But then a lot of Ghosts graduated and it was up to Hinton and Penecale to become the leaders on a team many didn’t know what to expect from. Division archrival Pennsbury looked like a heavy favorite and with a host of new faces looking to find their roles, the Ghosts could have been in for a long year.

Penecale, a four-year steady influence at point guard, was a lock to reach his 1,000th point, which he did early in the season. Hinton was a longshot to hit the plateau, likely needing a long and prosperous playoff run. Well, he got that, playing his best ball in the district tournament and reaching point No. 1,000 in the district final, a stunning romp over Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

“Before the game I thought about it but I told myself in the game not to worry about it,’ Hinton said that night. “Coach always tells me not to rush it and it will come.’

Penecale, respected by everyone within the program and outside, was more than happy to let Hinton be the lead guy after he reached his 1,000th point. Together, the senior guards became the leaders the Ghosts needed, taking a couple of early season losses in stride and hitting a new gear once the calendar flipped to 2015. Both players were conscious that it wouldn’t be a two-man operation, so they made sure the role players and new faces were welcomed.

Freshman Robbie Heath and junior BJ James, a transfer from Roman Catholic, both raved about the way Penecale and Hinton made them feel accepted at different points this season. Hinton said he enjoyed becoming a mentor to his teammates, repaying something his older teammates had done in his early years.

“He’s done a lot for us,’ Abington coach Charles Grasty said in the district tournament. “Last year he was the third or fourth guy, people were overlooking him and he could make a few nice plays. He knew he had to be our leader.

“If you’re playing offense and defense at a high level like that, that’s why I said he should get all-state.’

Grasty pushed hard for Hinton as an all-state candidate throughout the season and the state took notice. The guard was named a second team pick in the loaded Class AAAA.

On offense, Hinton brings an array of ways to put the ball in the bucket. He can shoot the 3, he can drive, he can dish, he contorts around defenders in the air and of course, he can finish those lob passes. The only thing that got the Graveyard rocking more than a big Hinton block was a Penecale-to-Hinton dunk.

For a high flyer, Hinton is very good while airborne, able to take hits and finish or draw fouls. When he got to the line, he usually made his free throws. Again, as a skinny guard, Hinton knew he couldn’t just power into the lane and score, so he put in the work over the summer to learn how to score through contact and prepare for the hits he knew he’d take.

“I wanted to be more aggressive,’ Hinton said. “Last year I wasn’t too aggressive, I was shooting pull-up jump shots so I tried my best to get to the basket as much as possible. I’m a thin guy so I have to take contact, it’s a little harder for me to get buckets in the paint.’

In the last game he played on his home floor, Hinton hit one of the biggest shots of Abington’s season, a late fourth quarter 3-pointer that tied the game up in an eventual overtime win over Chester. He had struggled a bit in that second half, but delivered when his team needed him.

Hinton’s fast rise drew the attention of plenty of colleges across the three divisions. It was common to see someone in a school logo adorned shirt waiting on the guard after a game. Hinton hadn’t committed as of season’s end, with the possibility of a year in prep school to continue gaining strength and experience also a possibility.

Through his fast rise, Hinton stayed mindful of where he was just a few years ago and never took anything for granted.

“It’s great,’ Hinton said. “I didn’t even think about it in 10th grade because I wasn’t getting much playing time but now I see that I really have talent. I’m grateful to all the college coaches who have come to see me.’

The Ghosts’ season came to a sudden and unexpected end in the first round of the state tournament, an unfitting end for a player that was playing his best ball at the time. But Amir Hinton’s career will continue and it’s fair to reason that he will only continue to rise, just like he did all those times to catch a pass and slam it through the rim.

“I can’t think of another player I’d rather play with,’ Penecale said.

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