Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Tre Dinkins and Harcum College were in the midst of one of the most successful seasons in program history, one that head coach Drew Kelly started back in 2004.
Harcum would finish the season 32-3, tying the program record for wins, and tally the best winning percentage in school history in the process. Dinkins was the catalyst of the team, leading the Bears in scoring and evolving into one of the best kept secrets at the Bryn Mawr junior college. Yet, he would look up into the stands over the course of the season, see a multitude of Division I coaches and hope at least one would notice his progression. Those introductions and pleasantries never came.
As Harcum moved into the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I Tournament in Hutchinson (Kan.), Dinkins used that lack of communication as motivation, first going for 15 points in a rout of No. 20 Southern Idaho then accounting for nine points in a victory over No. 4 John A. Logan. Harcum’s season ended in the quarterfinals against Chipola but immediately afterward, he received an unexpected phone call from Reggie Witherspoon and the Canisius staff.
“They didn’t come to any practices, and I didn’t see them at any games,” Dinkins said. “They called me right after we came back from Hutchinson and Coach Witherspoon had his entire staff on the line. We were talking and he offered me a full scholarship. My first thought was excitement because this was my first offer. I worked extremely hard for it and felt I had earned it.”
Harcum College's Tre Dinkins committed to Canisius. (Photo: Courtesy Tre Dinkins)
After Canisius came on board, Grambling State, South Florida, Maine, Northwestern State, Drexel, Longwood University, IUPUI, Maryland Eastern Shore and Iona College all offered as well because they saw what Witherspoon had seen: a player, once known solely for his scoring prowess, had developed into a complete prospect with a knack for pressure defense.
Canisius took notice of Dinkins’ improvement and wanted to bring him into the fold.
“I had a huge confidence boost from freshman to sophomore year,” Dinkins said. “They saw the confidence and they know I’m a great scorer. They know I can play defense, both on and off the ball, and see I’m a great teammate. Coach Witherspoon loves those aspects of my game.”
Dinkins committed to Witherspoon and Canisius on April 25 and the Golden Griffins officially announced the addition on June 8. The former Cardinal O’Hara standout, who will have three years of eligibility, became one of six Division I commits from Harcum’s 2021-22 roster, joining Mohamed Wague (West Virginia), Derrius Ward (Texas Rio Grande Valley), Louis Bleechmore (St. Joe’s), Yazid Powell (University of Buffalo), and Abdul Shanunu (Delaware State).
At 6-foot-2, 195 lbs., Dinkins physically matured into his body and, according to Kelly, who recently accepted an assistant coaching position at Northern Illinois under Rashon Burno, defense has become his forte rather than his flaw.
“The knocks on Tre coming out of high school were his defense and whether he was going to play with a high motor all the time even if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands,” Kelly said. “He elevated his game up and made himself into a Division I player by becoming a great on-the-ball defender. That’s where his game really elevated. He always had the tools to be a really good defensive player but valuing that more, that’s where the maturity comes in.”
The perceptive disposition to be cognizant of his key weaknesses was one of the biggest changes to Dinkins’ game from his freshman to sophomore seasons at Harcum but a gradual maturity complemented that.
“I’ve always been laid back, but I felt that my mentality to having that dog in me, Coach Kelly and Coach [John] Ball noticed that and that was what they liked about me. It was about me growing as a person and an athlete. Harcum helped me learn how to carry myself.”
While he averaged 1.3 steals in 33 starts this season, Dinkins began scoring the ball at a high clip from the moment he arrived on campus. After averaging 12.8 ppg in 18 games as a freshman, he increased that output to 15.1 to go along with 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists. He also led the team with 81 three-pointers made and shot 45.3 percent from the field on his way to NJCAA Third Team All-American.
Kelly turned Harcum into a perennial powerhouse by bringing in some of the premiere talent in the area and amplifying what they did well while dissecting their vulnerabilities. One area he did not need to tamper with Dinkins was putting the ball in the net.
“He’s a very patient player on offense,” Kelly said. “That’s another area where his game elevated. He was our leading scorer, but you look at the amount of shots he took, he was a very efficient player. He’s not a volume shooter and shoots high percentages from the foul line and the field. He’s a low turnover guy. Those are all things that really help the team win. He was a key guy for us in helping the team be a great team.”
Dinkins’s rise to becoming a Division I recruit is even more remarkable when considering several factors in his journey. During his junior season at O’Hara, the Lions only won nine games with three coming in Philadelphia Catholic League play. The struggle of the team coupled with an injury that limited him to 14 games and lack of recruitment nearly forced him to step away from basketball.
Luckily, he stuck with it and put together a solid senior campaign, where he averaged 17 ppg, was held to less than 10 points in only two games and was named second team All-Catholic League. He led Cardinal O’Hara to an 11-0 start and the Lions finished with their first winning record in league play since 2001.
Cardinal O’Hara head coach Ryan Nemetz took over the program during Dinkins’ junior season and understood why his star guard wanted to step away. Still, he worked with him and saw how he mentally approached the game in that final high school season.
“You could always tell the talent was there with him, but he needed to also have the mental side of it and take initiative because he had that talent,” Nemetz said. “When the season came around, his athleticism took a big jump, and he could always shoot the ball and had a knack for scoring it. He was very good at making tough shots and excelled at that. With any senior player, the maturity and leadership came together, so it was a perfect storm that season.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a complete halt to the recruiting process and Dinkins was short on options during the latter part of his senior year. La Salle and Virginia Tech showed interest but told him to do a prep year. Harcum, which began recruiting him in December 2019, was the one program that stayed with him and kept in constant contact, even during those moments where he felt like his playing career had reached its end.
For Dinkins, the opportunity to play at Canisius and the opportunity afforded to him by Kelly at Harcum mean more than he can describe.
“I had some thoughts about not wanting to play basketball anymore at different points in my life, so for me to be here now and reach my goal is definitely a blessing,” Dinkins said. “I will never take something like this for granted.”
Harcum had five players average double figures last season and that offensive versatility had been a staple of Kelly’s program for years. He develops players who are willing to buy into his system that calls for lots of ball movement and doesn’t rely on one or two players to rack up the bulk of the scoring. Division I programs took notice and, despite that some may knock it, that has led to a lengthy list of players finding new homes.
“Canisius got in there and they realized that not only is Tre a good shooter, as that was his reputation prior, but he’s also a very efficient player,” Kelly said. “They were the first ones to figure that out and they saw that he does a lot more than simply make threes. I think our guys are underrecruited because they don’t have a high points per game average, but we had six guys signed Division I, including bench players. It shows the depth of our program and it’s one of the reasons we were so good.”
Dinkins joins a Canisius team that finished 11-21 (7-13 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and lost in the opening round of the conference tournament to Fairfield. The Golden Griffins lost a large percentage of their scoring from last season as leading scorer Armon Harried (11.3 ppg) transferred to Binghamton, forward Malek Green, who averaged 11points and 4.5 rebounds, made the jump to Youngstown State and guard Ahamadou Fofana (9.6 ppg) will play his final season at Maryland Eastern Shore.
These departures leave minutes and production up for grabs, especially for Dinkins as he looks to provide a spark for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1996 when John Beilein roamed the sidelines.
“Coach Witherspoon has a lot of confidence in my game and his staff loves the way I play whether it’s finding teammates, scoring, or making the right play,” Dinkins said. “He’s doing a lot of evaluating but for myself, it’s a great opportunity to take the next step and work on my game.”