Senior trio setting new bar

Clay’s Nate Hinze puts up a floater against South Webster.

Clay’s Cole Gilliland gathers for a low-post bucket against Miller.

Clay’s Cameron King goes up with a jumper against South Webster.

From left, Clay’s Cole Gilliland, Nate Hinze, Cameron King, and Panthers’ head coach Adam Betten.

From left, Clay’s Cameron King, Nate Hinze, and Cole Gilliland stand beside one another. The trio have led the Panthers to a 23-2 overall mark, including 20 straight victories, during the 2016-17 campaign. Each of them surpassed the 1,000-point plateau on Jan. 27 (Gilliland), Feb. 2 (King) and Feb. 17 (Hinze).

Having just one 1,000-point scorer on a roster is a special accomplishment to behold and grasp for a coach.

However, when a school that holds less than 200 kids from the ninth through twelve grades sports three individuals — in one class, no less — that have scored 1,000 points for their careers, it speaks volumes to not only the type of talent that is in said class, but to the way in which the team has rallied around the idea of winning basketball games.

Yes, the trio of Cole Gilliland, Nate Hinze, and Cameron King can score points in bunches. That’s evidenced by their scoring averages, where the trio’s combined to average over 50 points per affair between them.

But it’s the trio’s efforts in discarding their scoring averages en route to obtaining 20 straight victories in heading their unit to a 23-2 record and Clay’s first regional tournament appearance since 1969 — while maintaining their poise and not turning their backs on their teammates through adversity — that have been the most impressive qualities to behold.

“They’ve just done a great job of gelling together and playing together since they were little,” Betten said. “It’s unique just to have one (1,000-point) scorer during a season, let alone three guys. I can’t say enough about them. It speaks volumes about their unselfishness and their ability to get along with each other and share the basketball because the overall goal is just about winning basketball games. They’ve done a great job keeping the perspective on winning.”

For Gilliland, his 1,000-point milestone, which came in an 83-47 victory over Green on Jan. 27, was just the latest 1,000-point milestone for the immediate family. His father, Craig, eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in 1987 at Valley, while his sister, Lexie, an accomplished basketball athlete at Clay herself and a sophomore at Kentucky Christian, did the same in 2015.

In the 6-4 athlete, Clay has a young man who performed much of the same qualities as his elder sister did for the school — a big who can face up and score in the paint while providing nice activity inside, as well as a excellent ballhandler who can run in the open floor to the bucket or step out and nail the three-ball.

“Basketball is something that has run in the Gilliland family, and has been very important to them in their development as people, in general,” Betten said. “However, Cole never put the 1,000-point milestone above winning. He wanted to win first, and put the stats behind him.”

The game has also been important to King and his family. His father, Arnold, whom Betten described as “one of the best players to ever come out of the area,” also eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone at Eastern, and each of his three additional siblings also picked up the roundball and ran with it.

“Cameron gets that feistiness from being the smallest of the four siblings,” Betten said. “The whole family is extremely competitive. I can remember when I first started coaching, and he was in sixth or seventh grade, coming along to watch his older brother play. He wanted to jump right in there with the high school guys. He’s always been around the game of basketball, he’s always wanted to be a part of basketball, and it’s something that he’s always dreamed about.”

Despite being the smallest of the four, King has used his ability to run a team and the ability to score to his advantage. The best example of those qualities was in a Feb. 2 affair at Notre Dame, when the 5-10 guard rallied Clay from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit with under four minutes to play to a 52-49 Panthers’ victory, while scoring his 1,000th point in the process.

“Cameron just absolutely turned it on in the clutch,” Betten said. “In one swoop, he gets a steal, pushes the ball down the floor, gets fouled, and gets an and-one out of it. The resulting free throw was where he scored his 1,000th point, and we were able to go from there and pick up the win in a very difficult environment.”

As for Hinze, the senior has trailblazed his own path into the sport — a path that has seen the senior play an integral role for the Panthers as a four-year starter.

During that time, the versatile talent has played an integral role from a leadership standpoint, as the 6-2 guard has accumulated a record of 71-23 during his four-year tenure as a varsity player for the Panthers.

But while the game came naturally for Hinze from the moment that he set his sights on being in the starting backcourt for Clay, a setback occurred at the beginning of his senior year, as Hinze broke his arm in a fall during a preseason scrimmage. That injury forced the do-it-all athlete to sit out the first eight games of the season and threatened to derail what the guard had worked for during his career.

“Nate was pretty discouraged when the season started,” Betten said. “He’s starting off with a broken arm that he sustained in a scrimmage, and this was supposed to be the big year for him. Now, he’s being told he has to sit out so many games of what’s supposed to be a risk-free year.”

However, it’s said that the best are brought out in people when adversity hits.

And when adversity hit, Hinze was there to answer the bell.

“Nate worked hard with the therapy on his arm,” Betten said. “I couldn’t believe it. As soon as he got that cast off, he was working it, moving it, trying to get it ready. Within a week or two of getting his cast off, he was putting up 1,000 threes in the gym. He was coming in before school to get back and get back on the floor with his teammates.”

The senior not only came back to finish off the final two-thirds of the year, but did so in strong fashion, averaging over 14 points per bout en route to Third-Team All-Southeast District honors. Included in that strong campaign was the final personal touch — the 1,000-point milestone, which came in a blistering 84-49 victory over Symmes Valley that helped clinch the SOC I title for the Panthers. Better yet, it came on Feb. 17 — Clay’s Senior Night.

“For the season to come full circle for Nate, with him getting the 1,000 points and winning the SOC I, on Senior Night, was huge,” Betten said. “I’m just really proud of him and how he has battled through the season.”

When one looks at Gilliland, Hinze and King from the outside in, they see three kids, three different backgrounds, and a group of guys that play three different positions.

However, it’s also clear that the trio have all sacrificed their own set of goals to do one thing — win.

“That quality (of unselfishness) is one that they all have,” Betten said. “We didn’t really talk about (the 1,000-point milestone) a lot. They just wanted to go out on the court, play, win championships, and whatever comes, comes. That speaks volumes for the kind of players that they are, and how they were raised.”

Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7