High School Sports

How Gaston Day point guard became weekend sensation, talk of recruiting trail

At the Gauntlet Finale last week in Spartanburg, point guard Nate Hinton averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead Team Loaded NC to the championship game.
At the Gauntlet Finale last week in Spartanburg, point guard Nate Hinton averaged 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead Team Loaded NC to the championship game. Todd Burandt/adidas

Gaston Day’s Nate Hinton played the best basketball of his life last week.

After five games in three days, his performance made a strong impression throughout college basketball recruiting circles.

Hinton, a 6-foot-6 point guard, led the AAU’s Team Loaded NC to the championship game of the Adidas Gauntlet summer basketball circuit in Spartanburg after averaging 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

He also displayed the one thing that college coaches wanted to see most: a consistent jump shot.

In about a 48-hour period last weekend, Hinton received scholarship offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Indiana, Massachusetts, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech and Wichita State. Clemson, Maryland and Saint Louis made offers Monday. Michigan and Oklahoma State began recruiting him after his performance, Hinton said.

Nate Hinton averaged 19.1 points to lead Gaston Day in scoring last season. LANGSTON WERTZ JR. lwertz@charlotteobserver.com

“Nate Hinton was one of the best players at (the) Adidas Finale on Friday and Saturday,” said Justin Byerly, regional recruiting director for PrepHoops, an online recruiting website. Byerly covered the event last week in Spartanburg.

“He has improved his jump shot, which was to me what many high-major schools were worried about. This past week, he gave them reason to offer.”

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Hinton shot 55 percent from the field for the tournament, often shooting turn-around, midrange jump shots and fadeaways over smaller guards. And he made 56 percent of his 3-point attempts. Those percentages dwarfed his high school averages.

“Nate was just more consistent,” said Team Loaded NC coach Derrick Wall, a Union County native. “And that’s what the coaches were looking for. He was an all-around versatile player and everybody likes the way he competes. I mean, he just blew up.”

Suddenly, Byerly and other scouts were taking to social media to say Hinton – who previously had offers from Charlotte, Cincinnati and Houston -- was one of the hottest names in recruiting after this month’s first major recruiting period.

“I’ve been working for a couple years now and it’s just beginning to click,” Hinton said Sunday, in between helping Team Loaded NC win two showcase games at a national tournament in Myrtle Beach.

“Now it’s just starting to click for me and all the hard work has paid off.”

Hinton is the son of Dr. Benjamin Hinton, pastor of Gastonia’s Tabernacle Baptist Church since March of 1991. Nate Hinton grew up in the church with values that can run counter to the in-your-face culture of the high-level basketball he’s playing for Team Loaded, a team that once featured Dennis Smith Jr. and Bam Adebayo, first-round picks in this year’s NBA draft.

“Growing up, in AAU tournaments, I would have to come back for church,” said Hinton, 18. “I can’t do everything other people can do. But on Sundays – just like my dad supports me in tournaments – sometimes I’ve got to go support him, too.”

Hinton said he takes great pains to stay true to his values, even when opponents try to test him.

“It’s just staying true to yourself and knowing that you can’t follow the crowd and you have to be different,” Hinton said. “I didn’t ask for this lifestyle, but I’m going to make the best of it and do the best I can.

“I mean, I don’t curse, but I talk. I’m a talker and I’m clapping and most of the time, when I’m the one doing it and setting the tone, they don’t do it back.”

Back home, Gaston Day coach Trent McCallister was following his star player’s performance via social media – and wasn’t the least bit surprised, he said. Hinton averaged 19.1 points to lead Gaston Day in scoring last season, when the Spartans reached the N.C. Independent Schools 2A semifinals.

“I thought it was just a matter of time,” McCallister said. “We have a unique perspective because we get to see him every day and we know how hard he works and the level he has played at for us at GDS.”

Hinton still has tournaments this month in Atlanta, Richmond and Las Vegas. He has an official visit set for Houston the second week of August, which was planned before his play last week. Beyond that, Hinton said he’s wide open for college and won’t name finalists until after summer play.

But he said it will be hard to top how well he played in Spartanburg. On the ride to Myrtle Beach Saturday night, he said he couldn’t close his eyes to sleep. His phone buzzed constantly with college coaches reaching out to him.

“It’s some of the schools you see on TV and in national tournaments, where you’re like, ‘One day, I want to get one of those,’ and then you get an offer from one of them, and then another, and then another, and it’s like, ‘Oh, shoot, this is really happening,’ Hinton said.

“Man, it’s a new world and I’m blessed and that’s all I can say now. There’s no other words to describe it.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr