Frank McGuire established an Underground Railroad from New York City to Chapel Hill in the late 1950s, winning a national championship for UNC in ’57 with a group of players that honed their basketball skills on Manhattan streets.
On a much smaller scale today, Shaw men’s basketball coach Joel Hopkins has developed a Philadelphia-to-Raleigh pipeline of talent. As recently as 2002, Flip Murray weaved his game from Philadelphia to Meridian (Miss.) Community College, to Shaw to an eight-season career in the NBA.
Now comes Amir Hinton, who leads NCAA Division II scorers with more than 30 points per game on average. After two seasons at Lock Haven (Pa.), the junior guard is in his first go-round at Shaw, where he continues a quest to mesh his Philadelphia streetball skills into an organized setting.
“I grew up on the cement,” Hinton says. “Everything I do, everything I learned is from street basketball. I didn’t have the basketball training growing up. Everything I learned was from street basketball and I carried that over to organized basketball.”
That transformation is working quite well. Hinton recently scored a program-record 52 points to go with seven assists in a loss at Tampa. His back-to-back 44-point and 31-point outings early in the season earned recognition in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.” And NBA scouts are beginning to take a look at him in Shaw practices and games.
“Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t lie,” Hopkins says of Hinton’s 32.7 scoring average through 11 games.
Hopkins also points to the truth of Hinton’s well-rounded game through numbers. Hinton averages 5 rebounds a game in addition to leading Shaw in assists (5 per game) and steals (29 for the season).
NBA scouts are not permitted by league rules to talk about underclassmen. But former N.C. State player and one-time NBA scout Chucky Brown is free and happy to talk about Hinton after having seen him play in one game.
“I do think people need to see him,” Brown says. “I’m not saying he’s a lottery pick or anything like that. I want to see him against the so-called top competition. . . . But he’s definitely worth a look. More people need to come and see him.”
In his one-time foray against “big-time” competition, Hinton scored 32 points for Lock Haven in his first college game, an exhibition against Penn State prior to the 2016-17 season.
If Brown were to file a scouting report, he says Hinton displays enough versatility with his 6-foot-5 frame to play any of three positions (point guard, shooting guard or small forward) in the NBA.
Brown says Hinton specializes in taking the ball to the basket and that results in an NCAA-leading 13 free-throw attempts per game. He makes 87 percent of those attempts. Brown says Hinton’s ability to drive and score is well suited to an NBA game that primarily features high ball screens and the pick-and-roll.
Brown says Hinton needs to improve and extend the range of his jump shot. Hinton’s 28-percent shooting on 3-pointers is about 10 percentage points below where it should be, according to Brown.
The natural comparison for Hinton is to Murray, who helped lead Shaw to the NCAA Division II Final Four during the 2002 season. Murray was a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks that year before averaging 10 points a game in an NBA career with eight teams.
“The difference between those two is this kid defends and Flip wasn’t going to defend you,” Brown says. “Flip was going to outscore you.”
Hopkins got his first look at Hinton a year ago when Shaw dropped a 78-70 decision to Lock Haven during an early season tournament in Shippensburg, Pa. Hinton scored 28 points in that game. Afterward, Hopkins learned that Hinton was considering transferring schools.
“Good gracious,” Hopkins says, “just watching him play, I knew he was a big-time talent.”
Hinton ultimately learned that Hopkins had groomed Murray for an NBA career and previously coached future NBA star Tracy McGrady at Durham’s Mount Zion Christian Academy.
“He’s somewhere right there with McGrady,” Hopkins says of Hinton. “Of course, he’s not a 6-8 point guard like Tracy. But he’s a 6-5 point guard who is somewhere between John Wall and Ray Allen.”
He also is right there with Campbell’s Chris Clemons, whose 30-plus average leads NCAA Division I scorers. The duo is vying to become the first from the same state to lead the two divisions in scoring since 1989 when Hank Gathers at Loyola Marymount and Steve deLaveaga at Cal Lutheran.
“I’m a scorer,” Hinton says. “I like to score the ball. That’s my thing. I just like doing what I’m used to doing. I like to score.”
NCAA N.C. scoring leaders
The following players from North Carolina schools have led the nation in scoring since the NCAA began keeping statistics in 1948:
Note: All led Division II in scoring except Givens at Division III.