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Taking pride in his passing, Mitchell's Caden Hinker nears Kernels' all-time assists record

Hinker is closing in on the MHS career assists record, just the latest in a long line of achievements for the senior standout.

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Mitchell's Caden Hinker (20) finds an open Charlie McCardle (35) under the basket during a boys basketball contest against Harrisburg on Tuesday, Jan. 4, at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — It’s easy for casual spectators to take note of deep 3-point jump shots, thunderous dunks and emphatic blocks, but while consistently great, Mitchell senior Caden Hinker’s ability to distribute the basketball often goes unheralded.

Being a willing passer is one thing, but the Mitchell High School senior takes that a step further with an understanding of where and when to find teammates, allowing his passes to be converted into easy shots. It’s a lesson he said former MHS coach Todd Neuendorf helped him grasp early on.

“He told me, ‘You’re going to get a lot of the attention on offense, so if you want to do what you can to help the team, you’re going to have to get other guys involved,’” Hinker recalled. “When he said that, it really stuck with me. If I’m not able to help the team scoring, the next best thing is getting guys in positions where they can score.”

That attention Hinker commands is the result of evolving into one of the most prolific scorers not only in MHS history but in Class AA basketball history, as well. The do-it-all 6-foot-8 guard/forward is averaging 22 points per game this season and has dropped in 1,441 points and counting in his prep career. That trails only Mike Miller’s 1,724 points at MHS and ranks in the top-10 all-time in Class AA, but he’s even closer to eclipsing Ryan Krome’s school record of 279 career assists.

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Mitchell's Caden Hinker (20) prepares to pass while driving along the baseline during a boys basketball contest against Huron on Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade / Republic

“If Hinker was a selfish player, he could probably score 30 or 40 points if he wanted to every night, but he’s not because he knows we can’t win that way,” said Mitchell coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt. “It’s something he’s talked about, wanting that assist record, because it shows what type of guy he is, how he was brought up and how he thinks the game should be played.”

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What began with a single varsity assist in Hinker’s eighth-grade season blossomed into a single-season school-record 135-assist campaign in 2020-21 (he grabbed a school-record 217 defensive rebounds last season, too), during which the Augustana basketball commit averaged better than 5.6 assists per contest. As of Feb. 14, Hinker has been credited with 260 career assists.

Though he’s always prepared to adapt to the pace and flow of the game, Hinker typically opts to start games as a distributor in an attempt to feel out the opposition and slowly loosen up the defense. As the game wears on, he’ll then take a few more opportunities for himself if the defense allows it.

But it’s not one or the other, as teammate and friend Dylan Soulek — one of the many beneficiaries of Hinker’s court vision — is quick to point out. Soulek said that part of what makes playing alongside Hinker so much fun is his capacity to score 30 points while also dishing out eight assists on any given night.

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Mitchell's Caden Hinker (20) looks to pass out of the post as Yankton's Mac Ryken (3) defends during a boys basketball contest on Friday, January 7, 2022, at the Corn Palace.
Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic

“Teams are keying on me, so it’s my job to get my guys open shots,” Hinker said. “The same way they look for me, I’m going to look for them right back. That’s just how a team should work. They do a great job working off of me and I, in turn, get it to them. ... If I get the record, I get the record.”

That attitude is recognized by Hinker’s teammates, as for all the accolades that Hinker has amassed, there’s one that would mean unspeakably more, according to Soulek.

“Knowing him like I do, those personal accolades mean nothing next to a state title,” Soulek said. “He’s just so set on winning, as we all are. The highest priority he has is leading this team to a state tournament, going on a run and ultimately hanging a banner in the Corn Palace.”

Dierks covers prep and collegiate athletics across the Mitchell Republic's coverage region area, focusing on Mitchell High School football and boys basketball and area high school football, volleyball and basketball, as well as Dakota Wesleyan women's basketball. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Gridiron Spotlight, producing video and providing live play-by-play for the traveling weekly prep football broadcast during its first season in the fall of 2021. Dierks is a Mitchell native who graduated from South Dakota State University with his bachelor's degree in journalism in May 2020. He joined the Mitchell Republic sports staff in August 2021. He can be reached at ldierks@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @LDierksy.
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