Hinker hits his stride: Sophomore scoring at torrid clip in Kernel win streak
After a Jan. 11 loss to Huron at the Corn Palace, Caden Hinker was convinced his shot was broken.
Hinker went 1-for-12 in the game for seven points as Mitchell lost the sixth of seven-straight games to begin the season. This was supposed to be his breakout season. Instead, his statistics regressed in the first seven games to 12.4 points per game on 30.9 percent shooting after averaging 20.6 points over the final eight games last year.
It has only been a month, but that night seems to be a distant memory. The 6-foot-6 sophomore is averaging 23 points per game and shooting 53.8 percent as the Kernels have rattled off wins in five of the last six games.
Hinker has been red-hot during that stretch and took it to another level in three games last week, twice scoring a career-high 29 points in games against Pierre and Spearfish. He averaged 25.7 points, while knocking down 11 3-pointers to push the Mitchell win streak to four.
“It was a struggle,” Hinker said. “But Coach (Todd Neuendorf) told us to keep grinding through everything, keep working and it’s going to come around when we get there.”
Early in the season, Mitchell attempted a two-man post offense to take advantage of the height of Hinker and 6-foot-8 Zane Alm. But it created more problems for the Kernels than opposing defenses.
A switch was made to put one player in the post at a time, allowing Hinker to gain confidence early in games through touches in the paint, while taking advantage of Alm’s passing ability from the top of the key.
Both have benefited from the switch, with Alm averaging three assists per game in the six-game span, compared to one in the first seven outings. Meanwhile, Hinker is averaging eight points in the paint and his 3-point percentage has also risen 18 points.
“We changed something and since we’ve changed it, it’s really changed for Hink,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “Ever since then, he’s kind of taken off. We’re putting him in spots that he was in last year, and before, we weren’t doing that.”
As Hinker has gained confidence as a scorer, it has reflected in other aspects of his game as well. He has been more aggressive on drives to the hoop, a skill he added during the offseason and highlighted by an 11-for-11 day at the free-throw line in Saturday’s 73-49 win over Spearfish.
Hinker has also increased his numbers in rebounding and assists, while learning to gain a feel for how the game progresses. He has picked spots to score and recognized when teammates have the hot hand.
After scoring eight points on two-point shots in the first quarter in a win at Pierre on Tuesday, Hinker exploded for four 3-pointers in the second quarter. In Friday’s 68-42 win against Sturgis, teammates did most of the damage in the first half, but Hinker scored the first 10 points of the third quarter and once again drained four 3-pointers in the frame.
With the Kernels starting a bit sluggish against Spearfish, Hinker scored 18 of his 29 points in the first half before his teammates took control in the second half.
“(Assistant coach Wes) Morgan has a shooting drill we’re doing,” Neuendorf said. “We spend our first 15-20 minutes of practice doing a shooting program that’s helped all our guys. Hink got kicked out of the Corn Palace. We got done at 7:45 p.m. and at 9:05, he was still shooting. He’s a kid that lives in the gym and I’m glad things are working his way.”
On Thursday, Mitchell begins a stretch with four of its next five games against teams ranked in the South Dakota prep media poll with a tilt with against Class AA No. 4 Sioux Falls Roosevelt.
Not only are the Kernels hoping to prove its recent win streak is not a mirage, but Hinker looks stake his claims as one of the top scorers in Class AA, something he did last season by averaging 17.7 points in seven games against ranked opponents.
“It’s big on my part to show that I’m legit,” Hinker said. “To show that I’m here and I’m with the Kernels and we’re here to win some games. We’re not someone to take lightly.”