Say goodbye to the one and only Sam Hinnant

Published 6:28 am Friday, February 27, 2009

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — Over the last four seasons Pirates’ basketball has treaded on some choppy waters. There have been two head coaches, three losing seasons, several student transfers and zero Conference USA tournament wins.
Throughout that time there has been only one player that has chosen not to abandon ship, one constant that remained in sea of change. Out of all the student-athletes that signed up to play basketball at East Carolina at the beginning of the 2005-06 season, only one has stood the test of time and completed his tour of duty on the Pirate ship, and his name is Sam Hinnant.
On Saturday night East Carolina’s lone four-year senior will be introduced to the crowd as Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly away” pumps from the sound system, he will guard the opposing team’s toughest scorer, sink a long-range three and if he is lucky, walk away with a win for the final time at Minges coliseum.
East Carolina will hold a Senior Night ceremony to honor Hinnant and fellow senior James Legan, a JUCO transfer, when the Pirates face the second-place UAB Blazers on Saturday night at 7 p.m., and anybody who even slightly cares about ECU hoops should show up. Hinnant deserves a raucous farewell from the Minges’ Maniacs his final time out.
Despite all the turmoil, losing seasons and pain, both mental and physical, Hinnant has come out and represented ECU hoops in tremendous fashion. The senior shooting guard played hard every night, is a good teammate and has never come out and complained about the direction of the program, even know he had to have stayed awake at night wondering about it.
Hinnant, who is currently 17th on the school’s career scoring list with 1,083 points, is also poised to graduate on time with a business degree.
For four years he is the only player that stuck it out with East Carolina, and fans should come out in great numbers to say thank you.
Over his career the Charlotte native has made 211 three pointers, which is the second most in school history behind Lester Lyons’ 229 from 1991-94,
Off all his long balls, none were more important than the three he connected on with 2:09 seconds left on the clock to give the Pirates a 69-66 lead over in-state, ACC rival N.C. State on Dec. 8 2007 at Minges Coliseum.
Hinnant was on fire as he went 10-13 from the floor and 6-8 from beyond the arc to net a career-high 30 points and lead East Carolina to its first ever victory over an ACC opponent.
Despite the fact that from his freshman to junior seasons the Pirates have won only 24 games (less than Memphis won last season alone), the ECU sharpshooter said the time has flown by.
The Pirates are in position to do just that. Despite Wednesday’s flop against Marshall, ECU is 13-15 (5-9), and if Hinnant and the Pirates can win one more game they will have the most victories since the 2000-01 season when East Carolina finished 14-14.
Over the last four seasons Hinnant has been a fixture in the Pirates’ lineup as he has started 92 out of 100 games he has played in.
The Fork Union Military graduate’s career got off to a quick start as he started all 28 games his freshman season, and posted 10.2 points a night to make the Conference USA All-Freshman team in 2006.
Adversity struck the following year as Hinnant, broke his leg 14 games into the season, right before the Pirates’ conference opener against Houston. The team finished with a 6-24 (1-15), and shortly after second-year coach Ricky Stokes was no longer with the program.
In 2007-08, Hinnant, who averaged 11 points per game, helped usher in the McCarthy era and became the face of the franchise along with transfer Darrell Jenkins.
The junior shooting guard emerged as McCarthy’s go-to-guy, as well as the media’s. Hinnant was the only player who had been in Greenville for three years, and always gave honest and thoughtful answers.
Despite having to answer the same questions over and over again about the status of ECU hoops, Hinnant never lost his cool and always said the right thing.
Whether or not the Pirates finish the season above .500 this season, Hinnant said that as he walks out the door he feels comfortable knowing that the program is in better shape today than when he got here.