Guard Hinrich passed on NBA to get stronger

Aaron Miles dreams of playing in the NBA someday.

Kansas University’s sophomore point guard didn’t have to look far to find a role model.

“Kirk helped me out a lot,” Miles said of KU senior guard Kirk Hinrich. “I just watch him and try to emulate him and do some of the things he does. He may not know that, but I try to pick up things he does on the court. He’s a tremendous player. He’s going to the NBA, and that’s somewhere I want to go.”

Hinrich could be in the NBA right now, but the 6-foot-3 Sioux City, Iowa, product opted to return to KU for his senior season after discussing his options with his family and coach Roy Williams after the 2001-02 season.

“I wanted to get stronger,” said Hinrich, who stayed in Lawrence last summer to take classes and work out. “I felt I could do that. Coach agreed with me that it was a question mark if I was strong enough to play an 82-game schedule in the NBA where it’s very physical. I want to be ready when I go.”

Hinrich is ready for his senior season, and the preseason All-America candidate hopes to improve on the averages of 14.8 points, 5.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds he posted last year while helping Kansas to a Big 12 Conference title and a run to the Final Four.

Steady improvement

Hinrich’s numbers have improved each year on Mount Oread, and Williams expects this year will be no different.

“When you talk about Kirk, you talk about coachability,” Williams said. “The ability that he has to take what you ask and do it is something that is as good as any kid I have coached. He’s been more diligent, more disciplined, more dedicated to improving different areas of his game than any player I have ever coached.

“When he came out of high school, he was not a McDonald’s High School All-American, and I think now he’s the best college guard in basketball. And it’s not because ol’ Roy did anything. It’s because that kid trusts us and trusts his dad (Jim, Sioux City West coach), listens to things that are talked to him about and works on it to make himself better.”

That work ethic rubs off on his younger teammates.

“In the weight room he goes real hard,” Miles said. “He stays in the summer and works out. He’s strong. He’s just good. When Kirk is on the court, you know he’s gong to play hard. When your best player is playing as hard as he can, everyone else has to follow.”

The pressure is on Hinrich and fellow senior Nick Collison to provide leadership after the departures of classmate Drew Gooden  who left school early for the NBA  and Jeff Boschee, who completed his eligibility.

“I played with both of them for three years,” Hinrich said of Boschee and Gooden, who contributed a combined 33.2 points a game last season. “They did a lot of things for this program. It’s going to be a little different. Not having them on the team is awkward. My role has changed a lot. I feel old for the first time.

“I’m going to go out and play as hard as I can every night just like I have in the past. I think people are looking to me now for leadership, especially our young guys.”

Changing role

Old might be a stretch for the senior, who won’t turn 22 until January. But his role has changed once again. Last season he moved from point guard to shooting guard and led the Big 12 in three-point shooting by making 47.8 percent of his shots from the perimeter.

With Gooden and Boschee missing from the lineup, Hinrich and Collison will be asked to shoot even more than last year, when they combined to put up 782 shots.

“I don’t think it will bother them,” Williams said. “My guess is they’ll like it. But they understand what it takes to win, so I don’t think you’ll see their shooting percentages go way down.”

Scoring more couldn’t hurt Hinrich’s chances of earning those All-America honors and becoming an NBA lottery pick. He’s also a candidate for the Wooden Award, given each year to nation’s best player.

“I’m handling it all right,” Hinrich said of high expectations. “It’s obviously different. I’ve never been in this situation before. It feels good. When I hear that, it makes me think I have to take care of business.

“My dad is always telling me if I want to be a basketball player you have to put in the work. If you do that, good things will happen. I just try to take that with me.”