Hinnant, Onakpoma had great careers for Hounds

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BY KEN MORSE
CITIZEN’S NEWS
There are only 19 players who have ever scored 1,000 points in their career at Naugatuck High School. With that being said, chances are, what Avery Hinnant and Ese Onakpoma accomplished this season may very well be that one in a million that we got to witness.
“What we saw happen may never happen again, at least in our lifetime,” said Naugatuck coach Mike Wilson.
Hinnant and Onakpoma each hit the 1,000-point career mark during this past season. In four years, the dynamic duo helped Naugy win two NVL championships. Hinnant was the tournament MVP in 2020 and Onakpoma received the honor in 2022. The Greyhounds made the NVL final three years in a row. Both players were All-NVL for three consecutive years, and Naugy posted a 71-11 record.
“We had a good run,” said Hinnant. “It was great that Ese and I hit the 1,000 career mark in the same season, but this was more about the team and the success we shared together.”
It’s not even the points scored that sets them apart in Naugatuck basketball history. It was how it was done with a sense of perfection. The Greyhounds went 16-7 in their freshman season, dropping a state quarterfinal contest to Farmington.
Then came the season when they began to pack the stands as the sensational sophomores led Naugy to its first NVL title in 61 years. The 22-1 Hounds were ready to show the state who Naugatuck was before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the state tournament.
Naugy made another strong run at the league title in a junior season that was kept to just 13 games due to the continued pandemic and following a loss in the championship game to Sacred Heart, the 10-3 Hounds were looking for more.
By the time their senior season rolled around both Hinnant and Onakpoma were two time All-NVL and All-State players knocking on the door to 1,000 points in their career.
Hinnant came in needing 223 points and Onakpoma 346 points to reach the coveted mark. Both were well within reach but the focus was on getting another shot at an NVL title and getting back to the state tournament now that most of the pandemic restrictions had been lifted.
“It was fun to watch both of them reach that mark,” said Wilson.
As if that wasn’t enough the storybook finish continued with not only a third time in the NVL finals in four years but a perfect 20-0 regular season record and a second NVL title in three years.
Endings in sports are usually contrite unless you go out and win a state championship. The ending for Naugatuck and this exciting duo came rather suddenly in a one-and-done scenario.
“I just want to make sure that those seniors know that they did not let anyone down,” said Wilson. “What they accomplished, the coaches and the town of Naugatuck are so proud of them. Expectations can get too carried away at times. It’s a win or go home atmosphere and that is a lot to take in as a kid.”
There is always the assessment when a season is over to see what will be missed through graduation and what will be back in a rebuilding kind of mode. For Naugy they will graduate the entire starting lineup and the sixth man, making for a complete reload next season.
Besides Hinnant (395 points, 16.5 avg.) and Onakpoma (458 points, 19.1), the Hounds will graduate Jayshawn Lindsay (323 points, 13.1), Evan Swanson (219 points, 9.1), Aiden Robertson (94 points) and Perris Sayler (65 points).
“You don’t replace those guys,” said Wilson. “This was such a fun season and you don’t want a let down next year. Hopefully we did our job and have the juniors and sophomores ready to take on bigger roles next season. We had quite a few kids get some experience at the varsity level and we are looking to just reload next season.”