December 9, 2010

DAVID HINTON’S GOT SOLE

By Chris Kowalczyk

If you wanted to walk a mile in David Hinton's shoes, the first thing you'd have to do is actually figure out which pair of shoes to wear.
 
Hinton estimates he owns close to 100 pairs of shoes, mostly Nike Air Jordans and Nike Air Maxes. His high school coach, Billy Martin, is a personal friend of Michael Jordan, which helped R.J. Reynolds High School secure an apparel deal with Nike. Hinton was already a self-professed "shoe head", but the steady stream of gear from Nike made it easy for him to bolster his collection.
 
At its apex, Hinton's hobby had him waiting in line outside of stores for special releases. In the VCU Media Guide, he listed his favorite website as sneakernews.com. He once dropped $400 for a pair of Kanye West Nike Air Yeezy's. He admits to wearing the shoes 'maybe three or four times,' and has a special pedestal in his closet for the rare footwear.
 
Maybe it's appropriate that a guy with close to 100 pairs of shoes is referred to as a walk-on. However, if you want to walk in Hinton's size-14 kicks, you need to know that the redshirt sophomore isn't satisfied with most people's perception of walk-ons.
 
Former Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus turned the life of a Division I walk-on into a hilarious, rockstar-like sideshow with his blog, clubtrillion.com. It was an irreverent, self-deprecating take on the career of a glorified practice player. Titus knew he was never going to play, knew he was never going to be a star and decided to have some fun with it. Hinton enjoys Titus' blog, but he's not that guy. He's not a sideshow.

"Everybody thinks you're not as athletic as everybody else or you're not as good on the court as everybody else," Hinton said. "It's funny. Sometimes I use it as motivation when I see some people's comments and stuff."

A 6-8, 230-lb power forward, Hinton came to VCU as a recruited walk-on in 2008. The previous coaching staff let him know he'd have a place on the team, but could not offer him a scholarship. They agreed that he'd redshirt his first year and that things would progress from there.
 
Hinton played sparingly as a redshirt freshman in 2009-10, appearing in nine games. He scored two points and grabbed six rebounds. In the meantime, he watched and learned, undeterred.

"It's obviously hard," Hinton, who is majoring in homeland security, said. "But I'm doing whatever I can to help my team."

For most VCU fans, Hinton's 27 minutes of game action was all they knew of the Winston-Salem, N.C. native. What people probably don't comprehend are the countless hours Hinton has spend sculpting his frame. In three years, he's added about 25 pounds of muscle. They don't know that he spent this summer on campus, sweating in the Amazon Jungle-like climate of Franklin Street Gym, day after day.  
 
While he his, in a technical sense, a non-scholarship player, Hinton is just one of the guys. Internally, there are no walk-ons on the VCU Basketball team. There are just players.
 
"Personally, I don't really view David as a typical walk-on," said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. "David's been a part of this program longer than our coaching staff has been here. He's someone that, really since the time we got here, has made dramatic improvements, not only to his game, but his body. He's spent, by far, the most time with Daniel Roose, our strength coach."
 
Hinton's done so much to shed the walk-on tag, that sometimes it produces humorous results.
 
"I actually feel equal to everybody else, even though I might not be getting this scholarship money," Hinton said. "It's funny because the coaches forget all the time that I am. They say things like, 'your [scholarship] money will be here next week', and I'm like, 'coach, I don't get money.' It's funny because they don't look at me [as a walk-on]."
 
Hinton's hard work and experience are beginning to pay off. VCU lost four post players from last year's team, creating an opportunity for Hinton to prove he's grown as a player. Hinton saw meaningful minutes in the Rams' exhibition with Virginia Union, as well as against UNC Greensboro in the season-opener, and VCU's win over Wake Forest in his hometown of Winston-Salem.

"You've just got to think about it as, your time is going to come," Hinton said. "Everybody has to pay the price. Not everybody can be a superstar. Some people have to work their way up through the ranks. It's all about hard work and dedication. If you put the time in, you'll see the results, and that's what's happening."
 
Smart has taken notice of Hinton's work ethic. He welcomes Hinton's contagious, lunchbox-type appeal. Hinton just laces up his shoes every day and he goes to work.
 
"He's a phenomenal kid, a high character kid," Smart said. "He comes from a great family. His family is based on humility and appreciation, and those are two things I have a great deal of respect for. I wish everyone had those two things in their foundation because I think those things allow David to be a great kid, but also someone who can be a great member of the team because he's always thinking about the team first."
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