The earliest Blake Hinze remembers having a basketball in his hands was dribbling in kindergarten.
No one has made a serious effort to take the ball away since.
He can dribble it, twirl it and shoot it. Oh, he definitely can shoot it.
A couple of years ago, when he was a two-time All-State guard for Cody High School, if he came across half-court and his defender was too casual, Hinze burned him.
Up in the air he leapt with his eye-catching vertical leap, hand cradling the ball in front of his face, throwing a jump shot down from 30 feet. The crowd at Sweitzer Gym went crazy cheering and the opposing coach just went crazy.
“I think he did shoot it with his heels on the halfcourt circle,” said Dean Olenik, the Broncs’ coach during Hinze’s four seasons on the team.
Hinze’s range seemed to be the width of Wyoming his senior year when he averaged 19.4 ppg. The shot gave him entry to junior college basketball, making him a member of the extreme minority that after high school gets to keep playing rather than just watching on TV.
But his defense, sticky hands and fast feet are what earned Hinze a starting spot for Northwest College last year as a freshman when he averaged about nine points per game.
Defense is dirty work that doesn’t show up in the box score, but if you can stick with your man and disrupt him, playing time follows.
“I always try to bust my tail on defense,” Hinze said.
During the recent holiday break, Hinze, almost in disguise with a thin wrap-around beard he knew would be shaved when games resumed and wearing glasses instead of his on-court contact lenses, reflected on his game and where it might take him.
His junior college career is rushing to a close only 14 months after he decided not to redshirt for the 2016-17 season.
The choice accelerated his Northwest career, his development, thinking and planning. He has to figure out what four-year school he can attend that doesn’t cost a fortune to finish off a business management degree and still play ball.
His main game
Hinze played some soccer in high school and suited up as an emergency goalie for the Trappers for a few games last year. He also was a member of Cody’s 2014 state champion football team, but basketball has been his main game for some time.
Hinze was a diehard Los Angeles Lakers fan until Kobe Bryant retired, but says his favorite player now is Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics.
There is some irony in this because Hinze’s girlfriend Dani McManamen on the Northwest women’s team is a passionate Celtics’ backer. She believes she has influenced Hinze’s thinking on a change of allegiance.
“I deny it,” Hinze said.
“How can you be a Kyrie Irving fan and not a Celtics fan?” McManamen argued back.
Bryant and Irving are guards worth patterning play after.
The 3A Broncs won their first state basketball title in 57 years in 2014 and Hinze was part of that team, although a sophomore coming off a football ankle injury. His brother Brandon was one of the stars, a two-time All-State player.
Brandon, 22, now a senior at the University of Wyoming, has long been an on-court role model and rival for Blake, 20. At 6-foot-1, with longer arms, Brandon is bigger. Blake is listed as 6-1 on the Northwest roster, but that would be true only if he was wearing high heels.
They have played one-on-one longer than Hertz and Avis. The issue of who is better is something that has lingered pretty much since the cradle.
“Overall? Me,” said Blake. “But he’d probably say him. He’s stronger. One-on-one, if I’m off, he wins. If he’s off, I win.”
However, the trash talking days may be over.
Almost as if he looked both ways before crossing the street Brandon whispered, “I’m not going to admit it to him ...” But he thinks Blake is better than him now. “If I’m not hitting the three, he’ll beat me 10 out of 10.”
Blake plays and practices every day, but Brandon still has a hoops outlet. He is one of a handful of good-enough, basketball-playing male students who officially practice against the Cowgirls as workout partners.
The longer Brandon talked the more concessions he made about the old brotherly rivalry.
“I’m sure he’s better at this point,” he said.
First in the gym
Blake was always self-motivated. Jacob Kraft, the current Cody boys head coach, was the assistant during the younger Hinze’s high school career.
“Blake is/was the hardest working player I have seen in our program,” Kraft said. “He was the first person in the gym and the last to leave. As a member of the coaching staff it was nice to see that our best player was also the hardest worker.”
Senior year Blake’s backcourt teammate was junior Hunter Capron, another deadly shooter. Capron remembers hearing of a radio broadcaster on the road referring to them as “Batman and Robin.”
“We had good chemistry,” Capron said. “He was such an amazing shooter. He was pretty much Steph Curry when he got over half-court. He would let it fly.”
Blake wanted to attend college and keep playing basketball. Northwest, just 25 miles away in Powell, was the best fit.
It was easy for his parents, Bryan and Bobbie, and grandparents in the area to see games and he had two years to sort out his long-term education plans. He changed majors from elementary education to his business choice, although it does remain a dream to coach.
The next step
Northwest coach Brian Erickson actively recruits Wyoming players more than many other Region IX programs.
The catch is they almost all redshirt for a season to adapt the faster pace of college play. Hinze benefited when some Trapper recruits did not enroll and he hesitantly took the plunge to play right away.
“He was college-ready,” Erickson said. “I think he is my first guy from Wyoming who didn’t redshirt.”
Hinze was comfortable on the court almost from the start and is averaging the same nine points per game this season he did in 2016-17.
“He’s got a good, one-dribble pull-up,” Erickson said. “And he can guard different guys. He’s gotten smarter and better.”
The Trappers began conference play Wednesday night with a 9-7 record. Time is moving fast. It is almost decision time again for the next step.
“I think he is talented enough and could play at any school,” Brandon Hinze said. “He brings so much to the table.”
Brandon is content with his choice not to play ball in college but Blake is not ready to pull back.
“I want to play,” Hinze said. “I love the game. I don’t want to stop now.”
It may take the assistance of the Match.com of colleges, but Blake Hinze knows his skills will find him a place at some four-year school where guards who can shoot the three and play defense are in demand.