Leaping to the next level: Kernels hinge success to Hinker’s skill progression

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the second installment in a series examining the status of the Mitchell High School boys basketball program. An hour into the first day of the Kernel Boys Basketball Camp, Todd Neuendorf was lecturing 35 young players...

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is the second installment in a series examining the status of the Mitchell High School boys basketball program.

An hour into the first day of the Kernel Boys Basketball Camp, Todd Neuendorf was lecturing 35 young players on shooting.

The Mitchell boys head coach pointed toward Caden Hinker as an example telling an often-used tale of lacking the strength on his jump shot to hit the rim on a 3-pointer as an eighth-grader. But after spending last summer in the gym, he became Mitchell's top scoring threat.

Hinker had a breakout freshman campaign in 2018-2019, leading the Kernels in scoring (16.2 points per game) and made 3-pointers (49). But now that he is on the radar of every Class AA team in the state, it's time to use this summer as the next step in developing what his coaches believe as endless potential.

"When nobody knows about you, it's easy to play the game," Neuendorf said. "... Before (opponents) said, 'Just go play them, you'll be fine.' Now there's a scouting report on him and one of the scouting reports is you've got to take away the Hinker kid.


"... There's going to be nights when they double team you and they say, 'Make somebody else beat us.' That's where he's got to be a facilitator. That's where he's got to do other things and he can't rely solely on scoring the basketball."

Hinker battled a learning curve early last season, but displayed flashes of his potential, including during a Dec. 20 contest against eventual state champion Brandon Valley that saw the 6-foot-6 forward score a career-high 27 points on 7 of 13 shooting from beyond the arc.

His scoring dipped in the ensuing eight games, scoring 11.1 points during that span, but when Mitchell grabbed its first win of the year against Spearfish, Hinker scored 18 points. That outing sparked a run in which he notched 21 points or better in six of the final eight games, including at least 22 in the final four outings.

That run ensured opponents put him on the scouting report and became the focal point of defenses, which forced more selective shooting and a greater need to find open teammates.

"It's cool that they focus on you, but then again, you want to help your team," Hinker said. "Sometimes you can't and you have to do other things to help besides scoring."

While Hinker found his groove as multi-dimensional scorer, finding balance between outside shooting and scoring in the paint, the rest of his game was not as quick to progress.

Although more comfortable on the wing offensively, as the teams predominant center, Hinker found himself guarding older and more powerful players in the post. He only grabbed 4.5 rebounds and less than one block per game.

It can be expected for a senior to outmuscle a freshman, but it caused Hinker to adjust his summer training to spend more time out of the gym and into the weight room.


"Last year I didn't lift that much and I didn't realize how big these guys were," he said. "I needed to get in the weight room this summer and get a lot stronger so I can be in those positions successfully."

Hinker's freshman season created a buzz around Mitchell, but if he can become a more complete player, he could emerge as one of the top players in the state.

The coaching staff does not shy away from his potential, either, as Neuendorf has designs on Hinker becoming Mitchell's version of Yankton star Matthew Mors.

"He's our Matthew Mors. He's our guy that we're going to run stuff through," Neuendorf said. "So, teams are going to take that away. He's going to have to learn that things aren't going to come as easy. We've been in his ear, telling him that and he'll be fine."

The Mitchell coaches have all expressed confidence, not only Hinker's willingness to improve, but his ability to handle success as it occurs. They have praised his desire to soak in new information and learn the minute details of the game.

"He's such a humble kid and he's extremely coachable," said Chris Gubbrud, who was a varsity assistant coach for the past three seasons. "He would stay after talk to anybody who wanted to talk about basketball. Really just small intricacies of playing and understanding how to play. He has the right mindset to be an absolute superstar."

His desire to learn and improve is evident, spending each morning working on his shot, while attending Mitchell team camps and assisting Neuendorf with the younger kids at camp. Hinker has become a key component of shift in culture, alongside players such as Carter Jacobsen and Ben Helleloid.

As Hinker continues to improve, his name is hinged to the progression of the Kernel program as a whole while his individual improvement runs parallel to Mitchell's.


"Consciously or unconsciously, he's the model-right now-of the dedication level of what those guys would love to see," Gubbrud said. "It's rare that you would have a guy that young, who's skilled, who wants to get better, but who's willing to show up and work with young kids at camp. It's rare that you find kids that young, who are willing to do that."

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