Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs spent his entire career playing in the shadows within the shadows of small conference basketball – a gritty, gutty forward who was always a key member of the ensemble cast, but never played a staring role.
He’s never complained. Instead, he’s simply worked harder.
And when the Leopards’ season hung in the balance in Hinrichs, a 6’8” forward from Clara City, Minnesota who averaged 13.1 points per game, stepped into the spotlight.
With four and a half minutes remaining on March 11, visiting American University was on a 19-5 run, and the Leopards were on the ropes, the life sucked out of previously rocking Kirby Sports Center.
That’s when Hinrichs let fly from beyond the arc.
Boom: 56-55 Lafayette.
A few seconds later, Zach Rufer drilled another 3-pointer. With four seconds remaining, and Lafayette leading 65-60, Hinrichs sealed American’s fate when he ripped down a defensive rebound, and the Leopards slipped on their dancing shoes and were headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.
“He doesn’t hit that shot, we don’t win the game,” says Lafayette basketball head coach Fran O’Hanlon. “He performed like he has in the last four years, he hit some big shots for us.”
In the eyes of O’Hanlon, it was only fitting that the game’s symbolic end came in the form of a Hinrichs’ rebound.
“One thing he always did, he always rebounds, he’s probably our best rebounder, he’s very unselfish in that respect,” says O’Hanlon of Hinrichs, who averaged 5.8 boards per game as a senior, and ripped down 562 rebounds in his career.
Over his four year career, Hinrichs has worn several hats, at different times playing the role of rebounder, low-post scorer, long range marksman and enforcer. And according to O’Hanlon, the two-year captain has never complained, or given anything other than his best effort.
“Since he’s come in, he’s just done things the right way, he has an aura about him, he cares very much,” says O’Hanlon. “You can see what respect the other kids have for him, at the end of the day they voted for him, it wasn’t me who selected him, they voted for him and that’s the guy they want to follow.”
According to Hinrichs, while knocking down jumpshots, pulling down rebounds in traffic, and throwing elbows on the court were second nature, leading the team was a bit of an adjustment.
“I think for me personally, I’ve had to grow as a vocal leader,” says Hinrichs. “Getting on the guys’ case and being vocal weren’t really my things, that was kind of a role I had to embrace more so especially last year continuing into this year.”
That leadership has carried over off the court, where Hinrichs often serves as an academic tutor and life coach of sorts to fellow athletes at the academic resource center.
“He leads on the court, he just works his tail off, I mean he’s so focused on school and basketball, he does a great job in that respect,” says O’Hanlon.
During Hinrich’s junior year, his first season as captain, the Leopards struggled, finding themselves in the basement of the Patriot League after being riddled with injuries all season long. A hobbled Hinrichs was limited to just 20 games, due to injury, really hurting his squad. However, when he did play, he was able to contribute plenty as he still led the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game.
“My junior year I was averaging more because I felt that was one of the things I needed to do in order for us to win,” says Hinrichs.
Entering his final season as a Leopard, Hinrichs’ role began to change dramatically. After two years of being the main producer for the team, Hinrichs saw his touches diminish as fellow forward Dan Trist emerged as the team’s top scorer and go-to offensive option, earning First Team All-Patriot League honors.
As always, Hinrich was unfazed by a changing role.
“I don’t want to say he took a backseat, the only thing Seth cares about is winning,” says O’Hanlon. “His numbers weren’t as flashy as some of the past years, but his whole goal was to win.”
As the season’s end loomed in February, and the Leopards continued to sputter, Hinrichs’ passion to win became even more evident as he and the other seniors on O’Hanlon’s squad began to realize the end was sooner than they realized.
“After playing our senior game against Army, we thought it was the end and it was kind of like this might be our last time playing at home and it kind of hit you where it was now or never if you want to win a championship, if you want to solidify your legacy at Lafayette,” says Hinrichs.
The Leopards struggled to find consistency during the regular season, finishing in fourth place in the Patriot League, going 9-9 in conference play. But after coming close enough to taste the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore, advancing to the 2013 Championship Game only to lose to Bucknell, Hinrichs wasn’t about to go quietly in the final games of his career.
“This a three-game season right now, either you win or go home, the playoffs were the most important week and a half of all year, this is what it comes down to, this is what we work for,” says Hinrichs of the mindset he bestowed upon his teammates entering the Patriot League Tournament.
“We’ve been here before too, we have an experienced group, we know what to expect as well, just kind of relaying that to the guys.”
The Leopards responded with a 25-point destruction of Boston in the opening round, before going on the road to knock off top-seed Bucknell, avenging their heartbreak of two seasons ago, setting the stage for their dramatic championship game over American.
“We’re an experienced team, we’ve been in the championship before, we have the talent to do it, it was just a matter of putting together three good games and I think we did that,” said Hinrichs.
Hinrichs knows the 16th-seeded Leopards will be decided underdogs when they face off against 1-seed Villanova tonight, but he’s determined once again to not let his career come to a quiet end.
“Anything can happen,” he says, “and we’re going to leave everything we have out there.