One bit of advice to live by during the coronavirus shutdown was that nobody could control when normalcy would return.
But every individual could control how they handled their business during the reboot.
Mavericks’ rookie Nate Hinton got a little help with how he approached basketball and life when the world came to a stop in March.
The 6-5 swingman who signed a two-way contract last month left the University of Houston after his sophomore season – more on that in a moment – and went back to Gastonia, N.C. – also, more on that coming shortly.
Hinton knew he was a borderline draft pick in the NBA, so he was ready to go to work in his home town.
And he got a nice surprise when he got there.
“Everything came around full circle,” Hinton said. “My father, he’s a pastor, and has a gym at his church. And that’s where I first learned how to play basketball.
“So growing up, it was carpet. And then something happened to the gym and they ended up having to get a hardwood floor. So coming home, I didn’t know that. But I saw that it was a hardwood floor and I was like: this is perfect. My trainer and I got in the gym and we didn’t miss a beat the whole pandemic.”
Like many NBA players who started on dirt or concrete or, yes, even carpeted courts, Hinton found a way.
Hinton, who had earned his reputation as a catch-and-shoot wing man who could rebound and play sticky defense with the Houston Cougars, has a unique opportunity with the new rules regarding two-way contract players.
Gone is the 45-day rule, which stated that two-way players could only spend 45 days with the NBA team that has their rights. Instead, players now can be active for 50 games with their NBA team and also can practice and travel as much as the team wants without it impacting their service time.
They also can play at the G-League level when their season begins.
“Right now is a great opportunity for them to get better, work on their game, work with player-development coaches,” coach Rick Carlisle said of two-way players. “In today’s game, the ability to shoot the ball consistently at long range is really key. Nate’s got a big upside in that area. He’s a great worker. I think he can continue to get better. Defensively, that’s his calling card. That’s what he was known for in college.”
And, Carlisle emphasized, with the coronavirus always lurking, unpredictable things could happen this season, which could open unexpected doors for any player, including those on two-way deals.
Hinton spent the summer working on his ballhandling and other things that he couldn’t showcase in college.
He also made the decision to pay more attention to his overall health, mental, physical and spiritual. He’s always been a man of faith as his father has been a pastor in Gastonia since 1991.
“I started doing yoga with a lady out of Charlotte,” he said. “I started eating right. I had a chef that was helping me prepare meals. I was eating all the healthy meals and I had my own place. So I got a sense of living on my own. And I had the whole preparation for what it’s like to be a real-life pro.
“It was a lonely path to this. But through everything that happened, the ups and downs, I had to stay focused and let God handle the rest. That’s the thing I’m taking with me today. I’m having to start my way from the bottom and work my way up and learn and be a part of something special.”
Of course, when he was in Gastonia, he got to hear a lot about Darrell Armstrong, one of the best 6-foot players in NBA history who is nothing short of a legend in his hometown.
“I’m going to say yeah,” Hinton said about Armstrong’s celebrity status in Gastonia. “Everywhere you go, people talk about how Darrell Armstrong is from Gastonia and how he made it to the NBA and that kind of motivated me looking up to guys like that.”
He landed in Houston under coach Kelvin Sampson and in that time, Texas became a sort of second home to Hinton. And he and Sampson grew close.
That made the decision to turn pro after his sophomore season a difficult one.
“The past three years, recruiting me and then actually being there for two years, it was like a marriage,” Hinton said. “It was like breaking up, a divorce. It was hard.
“But at the end of the day, he supported me and my decision. It’s always Houston Cougars family for life. I had to make the best decision for me and my family. Sitting here today, I think it was the best decision.”