Derrick Hines bent over on the baseline and momentarily clutched his shorts in exhaustion during a recent practice before straightening up, surveying the gym and smiling slightly.
He missed all of this last year. Even the wind sprints.
The Marshall guard was suspended for almost the entire 2005 season, the result of an on-court altercation in the first game of what turned into a disastrous 2-25 campaign for the Phoenix.
Banished to the playground, he played seven hours a day, shooting until his arms got tired and dribbling until he collapsed in preparation for redemption in the form of a winning and harmonious senior season.
"It was hard [without basketball], but I just decided I was going to do everything I could to prepare for this year," Hines said. "Playing AAU ball, playing for [the Marshall] summer team, everything. Everything that was offered to me, I accepted."
And after struggling with team play and a temper in previous seasons, Hines has worked hard to mature and lead Marshall in more than just the scoring column. He speaks quietly and calmly, is quick to compliment his teammates, sets an example by winning every sprint in practice, and has begun inviting other Phoenix players to work out with him at nearby Silver Terrace Park.
"His attitude has changed so much," Marshall center Isaiah Igafo said. "He’s calmed down a lot, and now we’re working as a team."
Talent has never been the issue for Hines, and the 5-foot-8, 135-pound point guard is playing the best basketball of his young career this season.
Marshall (4-4) has already doubled last year’s win total, and Hines is coming off an incredible three-game stretch in last week’s Stone Dagger Tournament in Brentwood, during which he averaged 36 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals per game.
His most impressive performance may have come in an 80-75 loss to a Richmond team led by USF-bound Wendell McKines. Each player scored 39 points in a classic scoring duel Marshall coach Mick Chennault said reminded him of the famous Game 7 shootout between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins in the 1988 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals.
"The Richmond players were looking around like ‘who is this guy?’" Chennault said. "He’s fearless and has a great competitive nature. And he’s becoming a great teammate."
While Hines may be smaller in stature than some of the Bay Area’s other top scorers, he makes up for it with incredible quickness, a killer crossover and a refusal to be intimidated in the lane.
Chennault had no hesitation when asked to describe Hines’ main strength.
"Speed, speed, speed. I mean speed," Chennault said. "He’s so quick. Sometimes I look out from the bench and it’s amazing."
And while Chennault says Hines is capable of putting up 50 points in a game this year, Hines says the box score is the furthest thing from his mind.
"I’m not worried about points or scoring," Hines said. "I’m worried about winning and making my teammates better. We want to change the reputation of the school from what happened last year."