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Augustana men's basketball eager to get Mitchell's Caden Hinker on campus

Caden Hinker is one of the more skilled players in Augustana University's incoming freshman class.

Augustana University's men's basketball coach Tom Billeter
Augustana University men's basketball head coach Tom Billeter speaks to the crowd gathered at the Mitchell Quarterback Club's meeting on Monday, Jan. 10 at The Depot Pub and Grill. (Branden Hull / Republic)

Augustana University men’s basketball head coach Tom Billeter believes he has arguably one of the best Division II recruiting classes coming to Sioux Falls next season.

The 2022-23 recruiting class features six players, four from Minnesota and two from South Dakota. All six of the recruits averaged 16.8 points per game or better throughout their junior year and notch double figures in either rebounds or assists for their respective high schools.

The one player coming into Augustana that Billeter called “just an overall skilled player” is Mitchell’s 6-foot-7 senior Caden Hinker.

“What I like about Caden is that he’s not just one thing,” said Billeter, while stopping to speak with the Mitchell Quarterback Club on Monday, Jan. 10. “He’s not just a post player. He’s got a lot of perimeter skills, he’s just an overall skilled player. The more I watched him, the more I realized he’s a very good passer and for his size, he’s a very good ball handler.”

Billeter first took notice of Hinker his freshman year of high school. He had been following Hinker for a couple of years and had even sat in on a couple of Hinker’s games. The earliest a coach can call a player to officially recruit them is June 15 of the year that player is entering his or her junior year of high school. On June 16, Billeter gave Hinker a call to discuss Augustana’s program, how he felt Hinker would fit right in and answering any questions Hinker might have had about the university.

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“Caden was one of the kids we called early and you never want to miss the talent in your own state,” Billeter said. “We always have a list of players in the area that are very good players and we want to gauge their interest first. … We were involved as a staff with him, taking turns calling and texting each week, just to keep in touch.”

Prior to reaching out the summer leading into Hinker junior year, the Mitchell Kernels had a Class AA clash against Sioux Falls O’Gorman on Feb. 18, 2020. Billeter decided to go to the game and watch Hinker play in-person and it was Hinker’s performance in that game that made Billeter and the Augustana coaching staff put more emphasis on getting Hinker in a Vikings uniform for 2022.

“We’ve seen Caden play for a number of years, but his junior year is when we really picked it up,” Billeter said. “Before that year started, he came and played at O’Gorman and we had already signed Akoi Akoi, but we wanted to see him and Caden go head-to-head and that night was one of Caden’s best games ever.”

Hinker scored 33 points and snatched nine rebounds in the 80-74 win against, at the time, the No. 3-ranked O’Gorman Knights. Akoi Akoi had 21 points and seven rebounds in the loss.

Following the win, Billeter said the Augustana coaching staff, including himself, discussed what they saw that night and said, “We have to pick it up on him. He’s a player we’d really love to have here.”

Billeter said at the time he knew Hinker was skilled and could do so many different things on the court, but seeing him against another player that will also be suiting up for the Vikings and other competition throughout that season, solidified his commitment to bringing Hinker along.

“He’s progressed from the inside-out over the past year,” Billeter said. “To see his perimeter skills, his passing ability, the way he can handle the ball, especially going into this past summer, was good for us. We got to see a lot of those skills that we thought he had, but to see them over and over again, was enough for us.”

As a junior, Hinker averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game. He also notched 1,000 points throughout that season, which helped him earn his second Class AA all-state honor along with his third time being named to the all-Eastern South Dakota team.

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Hinker officially committed to Augustana University on Sept. 28, calling it a place that “felt like home.” Billeter said not only is the entire program excited but they’re happy that Hinker is going to be in a position where he is comfortable.

“We’re excited about having him, he’s already been around a little bit and he has a very good rapport with our staff,” Billeter said. “He knows some of our players already so I think it will be a very smooth transition for him. … We have some familiarity and comfortability that will allow him to be comfortable and enjoy the experience. We’re truly looking forward to working with him and opening up his game even more."

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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