Charles Hinkle had seemingly been waiting forever.
At Los Alamitos High in Southern California, Hinkle focused on defense as future New York Knicks guard Landry Fields dominated the basketball. Hinkle made All-Sunset League twice but wasn’t offered a single Division I scholarship.
At Vanderbilt, which Hinkle chose over American and a handful of other schools including Harvard after a year at a prep school in Maine, he was stuck behind John Jenkins, now the SEC’s leading scorer, and Jeff Taylor, who’s not far behind Jenkins.
At AU, after sitting out the 2009-10 season as a transfer, Hinkle didn’t really find a role last year on a veteran team led by Vlad Moldoveanu, Stephen Lumpkins, Troy Brewer and Nick Hendra.
Brewer was supposed to be the Eagles’ focal point this season in the wake of the graduation of Moldoveanu and Hendra and Lumpkins’ decision to ditch basketball and sign with the Kansas City Royals.
However, Brewer has been battling turf toe most of the season, leaving a void that Hinkle has filled as deftly as he fills baskets. The willowy 6-foot-5 forward has more than quadrupled his scoring average from last year, averaging 19.5 points, 19th in all of Division I and second in the area behind Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin.
In the process, Hinkle has led AU to a surprising 14-8 record. The Eagles are tied with Lehigh for second place in the Patriot League at 5-2 heading into Saturday’s game at struggling Colgate.
“Every year I worked so hard during the summer to try to get better,” Hinkle said in AU’s basketball office inside cozy Bender Arena. “Every year, I always thought my time would come. There have been a lot of ups and downs. I would never have thought I would be here right now, but I’m definitely trying to seize the moment and get better each day. This year has been fun and special, but I just hope we get to the (NCAA) tournament. A lot of people who played here won championships and that’s definitely my goal, to get a Patriot League championship.”
AU coach Jeff Jones didn’t expect such a breakout season from Hinkle, which was really launched with a career-high 32-point effort (5-of-9 accuracy from three-point range) in a Dec. 4 upset of visiting St. Joe’s
“We thought Charles would be a good complimentary scorer to Troy,” said Jones, himself a complimentary player to stars Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp at Virginia three decades ago. “That’s what we saw in (a summer trip to) Europe and in the preseason, but with Troy’s injury, Charles has stepped up. Charles puts the ball in the basket. He’s a finisher. He might finish from 15 or on a 3-pointer, but that’s what he does best.”
Indeed, Hinkle has only failed to reach double figures twice and has scored at least 20 points in 12 of his 21 starts, including 23 last time out in a victory over Lafayette, which was a little payback for the Leopards’ double-overtime upset at Bender in the 2011 Patriot League Tournament semifinals which ended the Eagles’ season.
“It’s definitely a little different from the first five games to now because (our opponents) know our sets more,” Hinkle said. “A couple of teams have played box-and-ones. I had (an opposing) player tell me, ‘We may lose, but you’re not going to get yours.’ Coach always tells me that because I’m scoring so much I need to work harder to get the same shots or better shots.”
While the 23-year-old Hinkle is majoring in accounting, his numbers on the court aren’t just about math.
“It’s a story about a kid who has worked really hard and had a dream and finally the hard work has met up with opportunity and he’s making the most of it,” Jones explained. “Last year, all the pieces were fitting together and it was where is Charles gonna play and whose minutes. Rather than hanging his head after working so hard, Charles was a great teammate. He was great in practice. He was a great worker. That told me as much about Charles as a person and his character as all the success he’s having this year. When you have that kind of attitude and ability, eventually good things will happen for you. This year he’s gotten an opportunity and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a great example for our guys and anybody on the outside.”
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.