Utah's Hines Shooting Through Pain
By Joseph Utter
To many athletes, an injury during the season can be difficult to overcome. Utah's Chris Hines knows it takes toughness, perseverance, and playing through intense pain.
Despite multiple injuries this season, the junior guard has emerged as a leader for the Utes and one of the top three-point shooters in the Pac-12.
The 22-year-old Hines missed only two games despite an ever-growing list of injuries: bruised ribs, broken thumb, bum elbow and sprained ankle. The bruised ribs caused Hines to miss the opening game of the season and coaches expected him to be out a few weeks. He returned the next game and scored in double-digits in two of the next three. The pain was still there.
"The ribs were the hardest to play through because the pain was so bad," Hines said. "It was hard to sleep some nights."
First-year Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak expected Hines to miss up to month after he broke his left thumb Dec. 10 against BYU. Hines played the next three games but struggled shooting, scoring only seven points. He was determined to play, but Krystkowiak decided rest was the best option.
"He can't play through it," Krystkowiak told The Salt Lake Tribune. "God bless him for trying, but he hasn't even been able to go through a shoot-around yet to be able to catch a ball."
Hines said the two games he missed during the season were difficult.
"I wanted to get in there and help the team win," he said. "The pain is only temporary."
Hines has been inconsistent at times through the injuries, but scored in double-digits in a dozen games, including a career-high 21 against Stanford, only one month after breaking his thumb. Through Utah's first 13 conference games, Hines leads the team in scoring at 10.8 points per game.
Hines, who is expected to graduate a year early, has earned the respect of coaches and teammates, who said it is Hines' toughness that allows him to play through the pain.
The Houston native said his toughness comes from his family.
Hines went to work for his grandfather's landscaping business when he was old enough, and being tough was expected. He said during the summer, it would be 110 degrees and they would be outside all day. His grandfather always worked hard, even with a broken wrist. His grandfather's work ethic had a huge impact on Hines' character.
"It taught me to work through minor pain and injuries," Hines said. "The injuries this year have taught me how to overcome things."
The toughness and work ethic he learned from his grandfather has translated over to the court this year. Hines was again questionable for the Jan. 2 game against Oregon after an ankle injury earlier in the week. He played, with his grandfather in the stands, at Utah's Huntsman Center. He also scored a game-high 20 points on a 4-for-9 shooting night from three-point range. Hines told The Salt Lake Tribune there was no possible way he would miss that game.
"Chris has been a warrior for us," Krystkowiak said. "He has provided a steadying influence and strong leadership for us throughout the year."
The often reserved and soft-spoken Hines has led by example. Contemplating a transfer from Utah after last season, his commitment to the Utes this season is unchallenged. He is confident his teammates have noticed.
"I hope they realize I'm not going to quit, no matter how hard it gets," he said.
Hines has been able to stay positive despite the injuries, but he said it was a serious ankle injury his redshirt freshman year that opened up his game. He said his game has changed since playing at Klein Forest High School, where he was nominated as a High School All-American.
"In high school I was in the paint all the time, but after that injury, I thought I needed an outside game," Hines said. "After that I started shooting a lot more."
He has done exactly that. Almost 70 percent of his made field goals have come from beyond the arc, averaging 2.4 makes per game in conference games, second in the league. Hines has improved his scoring average by more than four points per game and his playing time has increased by more than 12 minutes per game.
From making just 12 starts last season, Hines has solidified his role as a starter and top shooter. He has set the expectations as the emerging leader of the Utes in their first season in the Pac-12 conference. Coming into this season, Hines was excited about Utah joining the tradition of the Pac-12.
"I just couldn't wait," he said. "The environment is so much different."
The Utes have been hampered by injuries this year, but Hines said his injuries are healing. With a healthy Hines in the lineup, the Utes look to compete in the Conference tournament.
"I hope to produce a little more down the stretch," he said. "But at the same time, I just want to help my team win."