Kirk Hinrich not only is one of the best point guard/shooting guards to play basketball at Kansas University, but also one of the toughest competitors to ever wear the Crimson and Blue.
Hinrich — his jersey No. 10 today will be hung in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse at halftime of the 1 p.m. KU-Missouri game — once played 31 minutes against Florida in the 2002 Preseason NIT consolation finals after severely wrenching his back in the semis against North Carolina.
“He couldn’t even take a deep breath without being in pain. It showed what a fighter he is,” Hinrich’s former KU teammate and fellow Iowan, Nick Collison, said.
The 6-foot-3 Chicago Bulls standout — who is ninth in KU career scoring and fourth in assists — also scored 15 points and dished eight assists while playing 21 minutes in a 2002 second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Stanford. It was a remarkable effort considering Hinrich was on crutches the day before after spraining his ankle in a first-round victory over Holy Cross.
“It was incredible. It shows the kind of toughness he had,” former KU coach Roy Williams said.
“I remember another game at Ohio State,” Williams quickly added of a one-point win in Columbus during Hinrich’s sophomore season. “Kirk gets the ball in the middle of the court, a guy swipes at it and rakes him beneath the eye. Blood spurts out.
“Kirk took one dribble, wiped the blood with one hand and threw a bounce pass for a layup with the other hand. A lot of guys get flicked on the chin and flop a half hour. Kirk not only finished the play, but got us two points.
“After that he motioned to the bench. The blood looked awful. We got a timeout, dried him up a bit and he went back in,” Williams gushed.
Yes, of course, Hinrich remembers the Stanford game.
It propelled KU to the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks went on to reach the Final Four that year and again his senior campaign.
“I feel that’s one people remember me most by,” Hinrich said, “but the one game I remember the most is Senior Night. As any Kansas player would probably tell you it’s a special, special night. The Kansas basketball family and fans really show how much they appreciate your hard work and dedication. To be able to share that with my family and teammates ... it’s probably the most special game I played in Allen Fieldhouse.”
Hinrich had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists in a 79-61 victory over Oklahoma State on March 1, 2003. That’s the game in which Cowboy coach Eddie Sutton raced over to the KU bench to shake the hands of Hinrich and Collison after they exited with a minute or so left on the clock.
Hinrich had other big games, including a 25-point, nine-rebound effort in a 95-92 victory over Missouri on March 3, 2002, in Columbia, Mo. That game completed KU’s 16-0 run in the Big 12 Conference.
“Nobody had ever gone 16-0,” Williams said. “Before the game, I told our staff, ‘Kirk will play great today.’ Aaron Miles made a prayer as the clock ran down. But Kirk was the player of the game for us.”
Williams said the ultra-competitive guard rarely, if ever, had two sub-par games in a row.
“I felt if he struggled in the first half, somebody (other team) would be in trouble the second half,” Williams said.
“If he didn’t play well one game, especially if it was a big game, he’d be great the next game. Go back to the Duke, Arizona games in our run to the Final Four in 2003. He was not very good one game (two points, 1-9 shooting in Sweet 16 win over Duke). Against Arizona he was great (28 points, five assists, five rebounds in Elite Eight win).
“He’s maybe the best defensive point guard I ever coached, probably at worst one of the top four or five competitors I coached,” Williams added. “Every game you could count on two or three parts of his game would be great. Even if his shot didn’t go in, you could count on him defensively. If the shot didn’t go in, you could count on him making the right play.
“When the shot did go in, he was as good as anybody.”
Current KU coach Bill Self’s Illinois teams went 1-1 versus KU in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 games in Hinrich’s sophomore and junior campaigns.
“I was always amazed at how fast he was. I haven’t seen a guy move the ball up and down the floor like he did very often,” Self said. “We still haven’t had anybody. Tyshawn (Taylor) is fast. I’ve not seen anybody Hinrich-fast.”
Hinrich certainly will share some memories of his career when he speaks to the fans at halftime today.
On hand will be Collison as well as Hinrich’s wife, Jill, and daughter, Kenzie, his parents Jim and Nancy, and some other family members and friends. Hinrich made sure to phone KU coach Williams in North Carolina this week, “just to thank him and see how he’s doing.”
“There will be some people here who have been important to my life, believed in me and helped me accomplish everything I’ve been able to accomplish,” Hinrich said.
Of buddy Collison of the Oklahoma City Thunder traveling to Lawrence on a rare off day, Hinrich said: “I think it’s great. I owe a debt of gratitude to all my teammates. I feel every individual accolade is created by a great team environment and great coaches, guys who have given selflessly of themselves.
“I feel they helped me get to this. Besides the fact Nick is one of my better friends, playing on the same AAU team and being in the same recruiting class (with Drew Gooden, who like Collison has his jersey hanging in the rafters), I have a lot of great memories playing with him and getting to know him.”
It’s possible Hinrich will shed a tear or two today.
Remember he’s come a long way for a guy not considered to be a first round NBA Draft pick coming out of Sioux City West High.
“I saw him at a summer tournament in Las Vegas,” Williams recalled of the recruiting trail. “Kirk had just returned from Moscow. He’d been back in the U.S. less than 24 hours. I watched him and said, ‘My goodness, this kid can be a big-time player.’ We recruited him the same week Tim Floyd left Iowa State and went to the Bulls.
“I happened to see Tim in the parking lot. He told me he was going to the Bulls. I said, ‘Do you think Kirk will stay committed to Iowa State (where he committed his junior year)?’ Tim said, ‘No.’ He also said, ‘That’s one player you’d really love.’’’
“I feel so fortunate we were able to get him and coach him. Those three kids — Kirk, Nick and Drew — renewed my faith you could recruit and recruit legally, honestly and morally and ethically. It reinforced my belief you can win with good kids. I think it’s fitting, it’s great, they will have their jerseys up there together. I’m extremely happy for Kirk and his family.”