Hinrich is a multifaceted playmaker who possesses a sweet outside shot, solid ballhandling skills with the ability to lead from the point, a gritty defensive attitude, hops that allow him to dunk and, as noted, one heckuva competitive streak.
Posted August 28, 2003
“I never got pushed into being a competitor. It’s something that just came naturally.”
Those words straight from the mouth of Kirk Hinrich should be music to the ears of Chicago Bulls fans everywhere. Chi-town’s number-one pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, Hinrich is a 6’3” multifaceted playmaker out of Kansas who possesses a sweet outside shot, solid ballhandling skills with the ability to lead from the point, a gritty defensive attitude, hops that allow him to dunk and, as noted, one heckuva competitive streak. This isn’t even taking into account that the guy is also a proven winner.
For example: As a senior in high school he guided his hometown West High Wolverines to a state championship. And during his junior and senior years at Kansas, he led the Jayhawks to two consecutive Final Four appearances and one national championship title game.
What with all that winning nestled in his back pocket—not to mention the aforementioned on-court skill-set—some believed that Hinrich could have or maybe should have left college early to enter the NBA Draft after his junior year. But the mop-topped Midwesterner—one of the few four-year college attendees in this year’s Draft—strongly disagrees.
“I just wasn’t ready,” he admitted during his first Windy City visit after being selected by the Bulls with the seventh overall pick. “Not just on the court, but also off [the court]. Plus, I enjoyed going to college. Every year I was in school, I matured more as a person and as a player. I wanted to see it through until the end.
“It’s different for every individual. For me, I wanted a chance to win an NCAA championship. I guess it’s all about priorities.”
Kirk James Hinrich seems to indeed have his priorities in order, likely because of his solid family background. Born in Sioux City, Iowa, on January 2, 1981, young Kirk proved to be a natural athlete at an early age, a trait recognized and nurtured by his parents, Jim and Nancy Hinrich.
“He was always a good athlete,” Nancy says proudly. “Not just a good basketball player, but he was a good baseball player, a good runner, and a good soccer player. But he loved basketball most. He was in the gym all the time.”
“He loved to compete with anything that had a ball,” says Jim Hinrich, who coached his son from an early age. “If it had to do with competition, he was really into it. If he had a Little League [baseball] game at 8:00 in the evening, he was ready to go to the field at 8:00 in the morning. He’d ask every two or three hours how much time we had before the start of the game.
“He’s always been very competitive. He probably gets that from Nancy.”
It’s been theorized that Kirk is a fundamentally sound player owing in large part to his father’s tutelage. Jim Hinrich began coaching his son on the finer points of roundball when Kirk was in third grade, and continued to do so until he graduated from high school. It’s a theory that Kirk doesn’t dispute. “My dad’s coaching was huge,” Kirk says vehemently. “He taught me the fundamentals and the things I needed to know at a very young age. That helped me develop much quicker. Mentally, I know the game. I know how to play. A lot of that is due to him.”
“Every year in college I got better, and I was more confident,” Hinrich states emphatically.
(Randy Belice/NBAE/Getty Images)
“You can’t force any kid to work,” Jim Hinrich says. “There are a lot of basketball coach’s sons who aren’t very good because they don’t have the work ethic or drive. We gave Kirk the basics, but then he had to go for it himself. I think a lot of times coaches are given more credit for a player’s accomplishments than is necessary. The player is the one who has to put in the time and effort, and take the heat. Kirk is the one that deserves all the credit. I just gave him guidance.”
“We’re really proud of Kirk,” Nancy Hinrich says with a loving smile. “He’s a nice young man. He was easy to raise, and it’s still easy to be his mom.”
Apparently, it’s also easy to be his sibling, as born out by the fact that Kirk has always had a tight bond with his older sister, Jill.
“Jill is a good big sister,” Nancy notes. “She’s always taken good care of Kirk; she’ll give him anything he needs. She’ll do his laundry, or if he calls at the last minute, she’ll take him wherever he needs to go. They have a great relationship.”
Of course, there have been moments of conflict, especially during the siblings’ pre-teen years. “When we were real young, my sister and I were very competitive [with each other]. But she eventually got into other things, like dance and stuff,” says Kirk with a laugh.
Although the Hinrich kids are now all grown up, Jill and Kirk’s relationship continues to blossom. “We’re really close, and she’s thrilled about me being drafted by the Bulls,” chimes Kirk.
While he’s fallen into the vortex that will be his rookie NBA season, his sister’s well-being is still very much on Kirk’s mind. “It’s a crazy time for me, but it’s also kind of a crazy time for her. She’s getting married in October, so, like me, her life is a little upside down at the moment. But she’s always been there for me, and I’m going to be there for her.”
And speaking of being there, you can expect to see Jim and Nancy Hinrich at the United Center on a regular basis.
“We’ll get a schedule, and try to make it to as many games as we can,” Jim says. “They thought we were nuts at Kansas last year. I only missed six games, and my wife missed two. But this year, if Kirk’s willing to put up with us, we’re planning to be there all the time.”
As a high schooler, Kirk participated in the 1998 World Youth Games in Moscow, where he helped lead the USA to a perfect 6-0 record and a gold medal against some very tough international competition, including Russia, Greece, Belgium and Croatia. “He’d never really been away from home [before the Games],” Nancy notes. “He’d always gone with his dad everywhere, for either basketball or baseball. That really started the growing-up process. But four full years of college also really made him grow up.”
Hinrich, along with KU running mate Nick Collison, a fellow Jayhawk-turned-NBA-rookie (drafted No. 12 by the Seattle Supersonics), helped make their Kansas team a national force for the past four years. Both Kirk’s and Collison’s contributions didn’t escape the attention of the various committees who handed out postseason college awards: Hinrich was named Third Team All-America by the Associated Press as a senior, after earning Honorable Mention acclaim as a junior; also after his senior year, he was named to the NCAA’s All-Final Four Team, the All-Big 12 Conference First Team, the Big 12 All-Defense Team, and the John R. Wooden All-America Team.
He was a first-rate dime-dropper at Kansas, finishing his collegiate career third in school history in assists, behind Jacque Vaughn and Cedric Hunter—not to mention third in steals behind Darnell Valentine and Danny Manning. Most impressively, Hinrich’s scoring average improved significantly each year. As a freshman, he scored 5.5 PPG; as a sophomore, 11.5; as a junior, 14.8; and as a senior, 17.3.
John Paxson views the savvy floor general as a long-term solution that will be an important piece of the Bulls puzzle for many years.
(Craig Jones/Getty Images)
Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson admitted that if it weren’t for fellow point guard Jay Williams’s season-ending motorcycle accident earlier this summer, Hinrich most likely would not be a Chicago Bull today. “Obviously [before the accident], our decision would have been different. With Jay’s injury, in a lot of ways, we were put back a year in terms of that position.”
But Paxson believes that Hinrich is more than a stopgap. He views the savvy floor general as a long-term solution that will be an important piece of the Bulls puzzle for many years. “When we look back on it, Kirk’s going to be in this league a long time,” says the first-year GM. “He’s going to be as solid as they come. I’m confident that his selection was the right direction for the future of our franchise.”
Hinrich is well aware of the circumstances that led to his being drafted by the Bulls, and the Williams situation seems firmly lodged in his mind, especially in light of the fact that the former college rivals played together on a high school all-star team.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Jay,” Hinrich says in a hushed tone. “It’s very unfortunate. I know Jay, and I consider him a friend. We came out of high school at the same time, and played [with and] against each other a few times. I know everybody is upset about his accident. I feel for him. Hopefully he’ll be able to get back on the court soon.”
A few days after being selected by the Bulls, Hinrich celebrated his new found fortunes with a trip to Las Vegas, but he quickly pointed out: “I didn’t do very well. As soon as I started losing, I stopped playing.”
Paxson was happy to hear that. “See, he’s smart!”
So he’s got the brains, but does he have the brawn? Up close, Hinrich looks relatively slight. He’s listed at 190 pounds, but his father believes that the skeptics will be pleasantly surprised by his son’s strength. “Physically, he’s very well prepared,” Jim says with a knowing nod. “I think he’s a lot quicker than most people realize, and he’s definitely a lot stronger. He’s gotten into weight training. It’s to the point that it’s something he really enjoys. Most athletes do it because they think it’s a necessary evil, but Kirk really enjoys it.”
Kirk Hinrich hasn’t set any personal goals for his rookie year—he’s taking more of a big picture approach. “I’m just trying to come in and contribute. I just want to do as well as I can. Obviously a part of any team is competition for [playing time], but my main focus is making this team better. I want to be a part of that, and I think I’m going to fit in great. I’m going to work hard every day and do my part. I’m looking forward to getting to know my teammates, and I don’t think I’m a hard guy to get along with at all. Hopefully we can all grow together.”
- by Alan Goldsher