Houston Cougars: Nate Hinton on declaring for the draft, "It's every kid's dream"


On a Sunday afternoon in early March marked the last time Nate Hinton departed the floor of the Fertitta Center. The Houston Cougars clinched their second consecutive American Athletic Conference regular-season title in a 64-57 victory over the Memphis Tigers. While shooting 60% from the field, Hinton helped the Cougars secure the second seed ahead of the conference tournament with 13 points, five rebounds and four steals in 29 minutes.

Four days later, Hinton and the Cougars' tournament season came to an abrupt end when the AAC and the NCAA announced the cancellation of all winter and spring championship games amid in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly a month after his final game, Hinton announced his decision to declare for the 2020 NBA Draft while maintaining his remaining two years of college eligibility via Twitter.

"At the end of the season, coach [Kelvin Sampson] asked me what I wanted to do, and at the time I really did not know," Hinton told Houston SportsMap. "Obviously, it's every kid's dream to have that opportunity to go to the NBA, but I never expected the opportunity to be like this. After talking it over with coach, my parents and praying about it, I decided to make that move and test the waters."

The uncertainty surrounding this year's draft played an immense role in Hinton's decision to test the NBA while maintaining his college eligibility. With the league calendar in limbo due to its suspension, it is highly doubtful that the draft will go on as scheduled for June 25 inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. At the moment, the NBA has prohibited all teams from holding in-person workouts and watching new videos of all draft prospects. The strict pre-draft guidelines set in place may leave Hinton at a disadvantage from hearing his name called by the commissioner.

"We are living in a different time right now with the Coronavirus going around, and we are stuck playing the waiting game just to see what the NBA is going to do," he said. "I am 100 percent confident in my ability and what I can bring to the table. But the idea of me not knowing if or when I will have a chance to get in front of a team — it's all about being smart and safe with my decision to enter the draft this year."

His hunger. His drive. His intensity. His work ethic. It's the four intangibles of Hinton's game he believes can translate to success on the next level, and what separates him from the rest of the draft prospects in this year's class.

Hinton is coming off his most successful campaign with the Cougars. During the 2019-20 season, he started all 31 games played and averaged a career-best 10.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. With eight double-doubles on the year, the 6'4 sophomore guard received second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors and first-team NABC All-District 24 recognition — as Houston finished the year with a 23-8 (13-5) record.

"It's the NBA, and whoever wants to take that chance on me — I would be forever grateful," he said. "My relentlessness on the glass and being able to play both ends of the floor, I believe the intangibles of my game translate well on the next level."

One of the most significant influencers who encourage Hinton's decision was Cougars' head coach, Kelvin Sampson. Since taking over the program in the spring of 2014, the two-time American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year winner (2018 & 2019) has helped several players reach the pinnacle of professional basketball. Most recently, former UH stars Galen Robinson Jr (Austin Spurs) and Armoni Brooks (College Park Skyhawks), who are currently playing professionally in the NBA G League.

Under his stewardship over the past two seasons, the lessons coach Sampson instilled in Hinton goes far beyond the boundaries of the court.

"He [coach Sampson] was encouraging throughout the process and was the one who gave me the confidence to enter my name in the draft," Hinton said. "If there is anything I can take from coach, it would be his two famous words: attitude and effort. In everything that you do, your attitude and effort are the two things you can always control. That and his competitive nature on a consistent basis."

The preparation to fulfill a lifelong dream will take place 20 miles away from Charlotte in his hometown of Gastonia, N.C. Adding to the burden of preparing for the draft, Hinton has endured the challenges of finishing the spring semester online, similar to millions of college students across the country.

"I haven't been home since June, and in the midst of everything that is going on, I am taking this time to enjoy my family," Hinton said. "In Houston, I am a long way from home and if it wasn't for this virus, I would not have had the chance to go home until May. So I am not taking this time for granted. "

Competing every day at the highest level with the expectation of hard work is the culture of UH Basketball Hinton will rely heavily upon should his collegiate career come to an end. In an event where he does return to the floor of the Fertitta Center draped in the Cougars' red, white and black, the experience of going through the NBA draft process is a foundation Hinton is looking forward to building upon for both himself and the program ahead of the 2020-21 season.

"It's just a blessing for me to have this opportunity to get looks from teams in the league," Hinton said. "I will not take this opportunity lightly nor this experience. Whatever happens, I plan to take what they give me and move on from there."

"It is also a great opportunity to bring more excitement to the team and help push the program forward. Everybody's goal is to keep getting better and ultimately get to the NBA. The more players you have that has gotten to that next level, then more players would like to come and play for the program knowing that the opportunity is lodged in front of them."

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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