March 1, 2013
Many Patriot League teams have the chance to play high-profile opponents in their non-conference schedules, which prepares them for League play and gives them the chance to experience larger crowds or historic arenas. Lafayette had its share of big boys on the schedule this season, playing at Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota and Stanford.
Taking a look at Lafayette’s 2012-13 roster, four players call California home and Seth Hinrichs came to Easton from Clara City, Minn. It wasn’t by accident that Fran O’Hanlon and his coaching staff set up these homecoming trips for Hinrichs and California natives Tony Johnson, Les Smith, Bryce Scott and Ben Freeland.
“It’s something we’ve tried to do when the schedule works out,” said O’Hanlon of setting up road trips close to home for his players. “We did it last year with Ryan Willen ’12 when we played at Vanderbilt, and made trips in the past to Florida (2001) and Arizona (2002) for Mike Farrell ’04 and Justin DeBerry ’04.”
“It means they care,” Hinrichs said of the coaching staff making it a priority to schedule opponents close to home. “They want to see you back in front of your hometown and your family and friends. It shows that they care about you, not only as a basketball player, but as a person too.”
The homecoming games are special to the players themselves, but also to their families, friends and former coaches. Nearly 400 fans of Hinrichs showed up at the Leopards’ game against Minnesota. To put that number in perspective, Clara City’s population was listed as 1,360 according to the most recent U.S Census.
“I told my parents we are playing the Gophers on December 21 and to mark that date on the calendar,” Hinrichs added. “They spread the word and a lot of people around the community knew about the game and ended up bringing a couple fan buses. It was a lot of fun and I was honored that all those people were there to watch me play basketball.”
Those fans were decked in Maccray High School blue and could be seen in the sea of maroon and gold at The Barn. Lafayette’s contingent at Maples Pavilion also made its presence felt with chants of “Let’s Go Leopards” when Lafayette took the lead from Stanford in the second half.
“A lot of people who came to the (Stanford) game have done a lot for me to help me get where I am,” Smith said. “It kind of felt like I was saying thank you to them and paying them back a little bit for all they have done for me.”
One of those people in attendance was Smith’s coach at Marin Catholic High School, Rick Winter, whom Smith lived with for two months at the end of his junior year. Winter helped him focus on improving his grades in order to get them up to Patriot League standards.
“He is a very influential figure in my life and he really helped me out in high school to make sure I was doing the right thing in school and throughout the recruiting process, Smith added.”
“There’s a great sense of pride for me, in that he’s worked so hard over the last eight to 10 years to hone his game,” Winter commented on seeing Smith play against Stanford. “Knowing that I had a small part in his development was great.”
It didn’t hurt that Smith made his second career start that night.
“Oh man, it was amazing,” Smith said of getting the starting nod. “I hadn’t started in a long time and to have my name called like that and go out and play and start, it was a lot of fun.”
Everyone on the team will remember playing at Rupp Arena against the defending National Champion Wildcats. But, the trips to Minnesota and Stanford will carry more meaning for many of the Leopards as they look back on their careers, 10, 20 and 30 years from now.