Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The talented backcourt duo that led Abington to a District 1 AAAA championship are going to be conference rivals in college.
That was set in motion a few weeks ago when Matt Penecale committed to West Chester University, and was solidified on Friday night when Amir Hinton announced that he would be heading to Lock Haven.
As members of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC)’s East Division, they’ll face each other twice each season, certainly quite a change from the past few years.
It’s certainly something the 6-foot-3 shooting guard is already looking forward to experiencing.
“It’s going to be fun, playing against my old teammate,” Hinton said. “It’s going to be fun playing against someone I played with for years.”
Hinton burst onto the scene as a junior, when he helped Abington to a surprise run to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals by leading the team in scoring (13.2 ppg). That only set the stage for a huge senior year when he pushed that average much closer to 20 ppg as the Galloping Ghosts went 26-4, taking home Suburban One League and District titles before bowing out in the state playoffs.
He and Penecale formed a talented one-two punch for head coach Charles Grasty, with Hinton’s scoring acumen playing well to Penecale’s ability to control the offense and break down opposing defenses.
“(Junior) year, towards the end, I really started to be comfortable with the game as opposed to 10th grade year when I was not really comfortable with playing,” he said. “This year...I really opened my eyes that I really could play for a good college, I could play at the next level.”
His athleticism and scoring ability attracted a few low-major Division I schools, but his recruitment ultimately came down to several D-IIs, including West Chester, East Stroudsburg and Nyack (N.Y.), all of whom got other commitments from other guards and subsequently backed off their recruitment.
So it's Lock Haven that will benefit from his services.
"I picked that school because I went up there and visited, I really liked the campus, it’s a really laid-back area, and they have a really good program," he said. "So I really made my decision off of that.”
Hinton will get an early jump on his college academics, as he's headed up to campus on June 22 for a short summer session.
Not historically one of the stronger programs in the conference, Lock Haven has certainly made progress under head coach Mike Nestor, the 2014 PSAC East Coach of the Year. In 2014, the Bald Eagles made the PSAC tournament for the first time since 2003, going 17-10 (10-6).
Last season, the Bald Eagles went 10-17, with a 10-12 record in PSAC play, but return a veteran lineup and add former Division I guard Lamin Fulton (Neumann-Goretti/Saint Peter's) to the lineup for one year.
Considering they also return leading scorer, senior Wali Hepburn (19.4 ppg) in the backcourt, plus junior Bootsie Walker (10.5 ppg) and senior Al Blount (8.9 ppg), there shouldn't be too much pressure on Hinton to step into a huge role right away.
But considering most of that group will be graduating a year from now, he knows he's got work to do to prepare over the next 12 months.
"I plan on working on dribbling, being more comfortable during the game and being more confident with the ball when I’m dribbling," he said. "There’s always more time for improving my shot, too.”