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Archive for Friday, January 1, 1999

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January 1, 1999

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— Rarely did the scope of Kirk Hinrich's early years extend beyond the hallowed halls of Sioux City West High School.

West was where his father coached basketball, and West was where Hinrich was reared.

Its hallways were his playground, and his great aspiration was one day to play in the gym still lit by fluorescent lights, a now-rare convention that allows West players to be introduced by spotlight oval.

"As long as I can remember, I was always up here, always playing in the halls or on the court," Hinrich said, his eyes sweeping fondly over the Wolverines' gym. "When I was in middle school, I couldn't wait until I got to play at West High School. That had been a dream of mine all my life."

As it turns out, that dream was a little short-sighted.

Hinrich realized his dream as soon has he walked in the West doors as a student -- not a gym rat -- and he has engraved his name alongside at least three school boys basketball records with the majority of his senior season still to go.

"He didn't have much of a chance," Hinrich's father, Jim, said with a laugh. "He spent a lot of time in West High. The hallways and gyms were his play area. We never had to talk him into it. He was always so much into playing."

Kirk Hinrich has translated that high school success into a scholarship at Kansas University, and father and son alike couldn't help but be a little surprised.

"It really did surprise me a little bit," Jim Hinrich said. "I ran through a lot of feelings. I was very impressed with the schools that wanted Kirk. I was surprised they recruited him as hard as they did. But he had a great summer. I hadn't been through that before, and we've had five Division One athletes in the last six years."

Bye-bye, ISU

The recruitment of Kirk Hinrich was unlike any of the other four former Wolverines in recent years.

About the time Hinrich's name began to circulate outside of Iowa -- the summer after his sophomore year, when he traveled the AAU circuit with the same Waterloo-based team on which fellow KU signee Nick Collison plays -- his name was taken off the recruiting watch list.

That summer, Hinrich attended a camp at Iowa State. He was invited back by none other than then-ISU coach Tim Floyd.

"Iowa State had an advantage in that, until they're juniors, you can't talk to them unless they're on campus for a camp. We were on campus twice," Jim Hinrich said. "We were at an Iowa State camp and coach Floyd came up before the ball game and asked if he could watch Kirk play. He watched the first half, and at halftime he offered a scholarship. He said he could commit early if he wanted to."

Kirk wasn't sure. He was impressed with Floyd and ISU, and the proximity was tempting.

The offer of a Division One scholarship so early in his high school career was too good to pass up, and he committed to Iowa State in August.

"I'm sure, being that young, he didn't know if anybody else would be interested," Jim Hinrich said. "And being in state, we felt it was a good situation, so he committed."

That could have been the end of it. Instead, it was just the start.

Last July, Hinrich withdrew his verbal commitment to ISU after Floyd announced he was taking a job with the NBA's Chicago Bulls.

"I really didn't think he was going," Kirk Hinrich said. "I had heard the rumors, but I just didn't see him doing it. I just didn't see him in the NBA."

A lot of people did.

Every time a rumor would pop up about Floyd bolting, the Hinrich phone would ring, and on the other end a coach somewhere would tell the Hinrichs how much he respected Kirk's commitment to the Cyclones, but if Floyd were to leave, well, he'd sure be interested in talking to Kirk.

When Floyd took the job, the Hinrichs were in Orlando, Fla., for an AAU tournament.

"After we got there, somebody said coach Floyd had taken the Bulls job," Jim Hinrich said. "After that game, I had 10 Division One coaches waiting to see me."

The timing -- for Kirk Hinrich, at least -- was perfect. He had something of a coming-out summer. He travelled to Moscow to play for the gold medal-winning Team USA 17-and-under all-star team, and his AAU team placed second in the under-19 national tournament.

Suddenly, Hinrich went from off-the-market to hot commodity.

"Not a lot of people had heard of me," he said, "but this summer I played good."

KU waited until Hinrich officially withdrew his commitment before opening a line of communication, and the Jayhawks weren't alone.

Oklahoma soon came calling, and Utah and Kentucky and Purdue and Notre Dame.

After a whirlwind three months, Hinrich committed to KU in October.

Then he headed to the gym.

"What all the recruiting did for him was make him put in more time, more work," Jim Hinrich said. "He wants to play at the next level."

The Collison connection

Hinrich and Collison, a forward from Iowa Falls, forever will be inextricably linked, since they both will come to KU from Iowa in the same recruiting class.

But the connection runs far deeper than their home state.

The Hinrich-Collison collision course goes all the way back to Jim Hinrich's playing days at Briar Cliff College in Sioux City.

Jim played basketball at Briar Cliff.

A few years later, David Collison -- Nick's father -- played basketball at Briar Cliff.

Both fathers went on to become school teachers and high school basketball coaches; both mothers -- Nancy Hinrich and Judy Collison -- are teachers, too, and Briar Cliff alumni to boot.

Both families also have daughters who are college juniors. Katie Collison attends nearby Northern Iowa, while Jill Hinrich attends ... KU. After Kansas started recruiting her baby brother, Jill Hinrich became a basketball ambassador, part of the group of KU students that escorts recruits around campus during their visits.

"It is kind of unusual," Jim Hinrich said. "We're all school teachers. We all went to Briar Cliff. Because of the Sioux City relationship and the fact we're all teachers, it's a friendly situation there."

The Hinrichs and Collisons crossed paths many times, but it wasn't until the boys started playing on the same AAU team that they discovered how eerily similar their families really were.

"It's amazing," David Collison said. "I went to the same college as Jim. We didn't really know each other, but I knew of him. We both played basketball, and we did play against each other in some alumni games, but I didn't really know him all that well until Nick and Kirk started playing together in AAU. It's nice to have somebody going through the same things. We watch games the same way, and we're both coaches. We talk about things. He gives me ideas, and I try not to mess him up."

The parents quickly formed a fast friendship. So did Nick and Kirk.

"We've got a lot in common, and we get along well," Nick Collison said. "We're good friends, I guess because we have so much in common. It's kind of nice to know I'll have a friend at Kansas."

So alike, so different

Despite their similar upbringings, Hinrich and Collison are vastly different when it comes to basketball.

Hinrich is a 6-foot-3 guard, while Collison is a 6-9 power forward.

Hinrich plays in Class 4A, the state's largest class, in a multiple-high school town, while Collison plays in Class 2A for a community high school.

Collison also has lots of help from several talented teammates, while Hinrich desperately needs help, especially inside, to counter the gimmick defenses and double- and triple-teams thrown his way.

"It's pretty tough," Hinrich said. "When they're really keying on me, it would be easy to get frustrated, but I try to keep my head up."

Hinrich averaged 18.2 points on 61-percent shooting as a junior. So far this season, he's averaging nearly 23 points per game.

He has hit about 57 percent of his field goals, 47 percent of his threes and 85 percent of his free throws. He averages over six assists and six rebounds a game.

Hinrich already holds the school records for single-game, season and career assists.

Now his dad -- who weathered a storm of criticism from parents for playing Kirk "too much" as a sophomore -- is trying to find a way to make his son more selfish.

"Last year, he was our leading scorer, and he took the third-most shots on the team," Jim Hinrich said." His sophomore year, he was our second-leading scorer, and he took the fourth-most shots. Now we need him to shoot more."

-- Andrew Hartsock's phone number is 832-7216. His e-mail address is ahartsock@ljworld.com.

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