My dream to attend college was planted in my mind at a very young age. But as the youngest child growing up in a house in The Bahamas with three older siblings, I knew that in order for me to go to college, I would have to work my tail off. My parents, Alonzo and Jessie Hinsey, instilled the value of education in me when they both left The Bahamas as older adults to pursue their bachelor’s degrees at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee. Seeing them leave family, friends, and careers behind showed me how important and valuable a college degree would be. For the next few years, I watched as my parents worked tirelessly, taking care of four kids while spending countless hours studying. At the end of four years, I was able to watch my parents walk across a stage in their black cap and gowns and get awarded their degrees with honors. It was at this moment that I knew I wanted to get a college degree.
My family returned to The Bahamas after my parents graduated, and I spent the next six years at Nassau Christian Academy (NCA) excelling in academics and continuing to develop my love for sports. While in the seventh grade at NCA, I was able to make the junior high boys’ basketball team. I was probably the smallest kid on the team, but I’d argue that I had the biggest heart. I say that because it takes someone with a big heart to sit on the bench most games and cheer your teammates on knowing you probably won’t get in. For the next few years, my love of basketball continued to grow, and I continued to work on my game. Like most young kids, I wanted to go to the NBA, and I believed that if I worked hard enough I would have a chance to go to college and then get drafted in the NBA. I now know how much of a long shot that actually was, but back then it didn’t matter.
The following year I continued to improve and my coaches began to take notice and talked to me about a possible opportunity to attend a high school in Fayetteville, Arkansas. My coach felt like it would give me a better opportunity to get recognized by college coaches and have a chance to earn an athletic scholarship.
During the spring of 1995, my father and I flew to Fayetteville to visit Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) and meet with the school’s founder. After our visit, my parents and I ultimately decided that leaving The Bahamas to finish my high school career in Arkansas was what God wanted me to do. The next two years at FCS was filled with valleys and mountains from adjusting to a new culture and being away from home to helping my team win a district and regional title for the first time and making it to the state tournament. At the conclusion of my senior season, I was faced with the reality that I would soon be graduating, and I was unsure of my future.
Things began to look up when I received an invitation to visit a small university located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas called John Brown University. The head coach made no promises or guarantees, but he gave me the opportunity to work out with the team and see if I had what it took to play at the next level. During the workout and scrimmage, I was tasked with guarding the team’s best player. He was probably 20 or 21 at the time and getting ready to enter his senior year of college. I was 16 and still popping pimples. I’d be lying if
I said he didn’t wear me out. It was the toughest workout I had ever participated in in my life. These guys were on a different level. They didn’t get tired, and they didn’t miss shots. They played at a different speed and pace than anything I had ever experienced in my life. After we scrimmaged, my lungs felt like they were bleeding and my legs felt like they wanted to fall off.
I thought to myself, there was no way I had impressed the coach. However, we had a chance to visit afterwards, and he offered me a $10,000 athletic scholarship for one year if I’d consider coming in and redshirting (practicing with the team without playing in games in order to maintain 4 years of eligibility). There were no guarantees for a second year, but if I came in and worked hard in the classroom and on the court, I could possibly earn the full $13,000 athletic scholarship the next year. He said he’d give me a few weeks to think it over and discuss it with my parents.
Ultimately, I made my decision to play for Head Coach John Sheehy and become a Golden Eagle at John Brown University (JBU) an NAIA Division I institution. During my first year, I did exactly as Coach Sheehy wanted. I worked my tail off in the classroom and on the floor. At the end of my first year, he called me in and said that since I kept up my end of the bargain, he’d like to offer me a full athletic scholarship the following year. The next four years, I continued to work hard in school and in basketball. When it was all said and done, I finished as a 1,000 point scorer and was in the top two in assists and steals for a career, and most importantly, I graduated with a double major in broadcasting and digital media.
The transition away from competition was a difficult time in my life. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be a professional basketball player and that I’d have to focus on getting a “real job”. But it was difficult walking away from something I’d loved doing since I was a child. I had to find out how to focus that passion for sports on to something else. That summer after graduating, I returned to The Bahamas and started to do some soul searching on what the next phase of my life would look like. I decided to return to the U.S. and look for a job in my field since I was given a one-year work visa as an international student called the OPT (Optional Practical Training).
I returned to Fayetteville, Arkansas and eventually found a part-time job as a production assistant at a CBS affiliate television station, KFSM-TV. For the next few months, I would hop in and out of several other part time gigs, while waiting on a full-time position to open up at KFSM. Eventually, I was hired on full time and spent the next three and a half years working in the media industry. During my time at KFSM, I married my college sweetheart, Stephanie, bought a home, brought my nephew, KJ, from The Bahamas to live with me and Steph and finish high school at FCS, and began working towards my master’s degree in sport management through an online program at California University of Pennsylvania.
The spring before I completed my master’s degree, the sports information director position opened up at my alma mater, JBU. I was offered the job and began my career in college athletics on July 1, 2006. While at JBU, I chose to further my education and pursue my doctorate in recreation and sport management at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. I was accepted into the program and began in the fall of 2011. At this time, I was still employed by JBU, and had to work 50-60 hours a week as an employee, take six hours of doctoral classes, and try to be a good husband and dad to my 3-year old son, Sammie, while preparing for another son on the way.
Despite this, I decided to charge ahead and work as hard as I’ve ever had to work in the classroom. In March of the spring semester during my first year of classes, I was informed about a graduate assistant position working for the University of Arkansas’ Office of Student-Athlete Success. I made the decision to apply and was offered the job. I decided to leave JBU and looked forward to this new challenge. For the next year, I worked as a 32-year old graduate assistant making $850 a month. I went from having my own office at JBU, to sharing a room with five other graduate assistants, who were in there 20’s and recently graduated with their bachelor’s degrees. Some people probably thought I was crazy for making the jump from JBU to the University Arkansas, but I knew this was what I was supposed to be doing.
Near the end of my first year as a graduate assistant, the opportunity to apply for the position of Director of Student-Athlete Development for Women’s Basketball at the University of Arkansas became available. I applied and eventually was offered and accepted the job. This blessing was my inception into the world of NCAA Division I women’s basketball. It allowed me to not only finish working on my doctoral degree, but to also work hand in hand with individuals at the highest level of college athletics.
Some may look at my journey and call me extremely lucky. Well, I really don’t believe in luck. I believe luck is defined as preparation meeting opportunity. If you are prepared for an opportunity when it becomes available then all you have to do is put your best foot forward and things will work in your favor. What God has for you will be for you, and what isn’t meant for you, you really don’t want. This is the mantra I choose to live by, and it has worked for me. One thing I know for certain, though, is that in order to see your dreams become a reality, you must be ready and willing to make sacrifices. Sometimes, you have to take a few steps back in order to jump even more steps ahead.
I often wonder and ask myself, “If I could go back, would I change anything?” The answer is “yes”. We would all probably change a few things in our past if we could. However, I know that everything that I’ve experienced up to this point in my life has helped form the person that I am today. So many times, we hear people encourage us to never give up on our dreams. They say, “You can be anything you want to be.” The problem is we hear this so often it just becomes a cliché. Well, I learned how to shoot a basketball on a milk crate nailed to a coconut tree in my back yard in The Bahamas. Because of that, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world doing something I love. I don’t know what your future holds for you, but I’m a living example that there’s no reason you can’t reach your dreams. My dream has always been to give back to my country by helping to develop the Bahamian communities through youth recreation and sports. As I look ahead to the future, my energy is now focused on expanding my purpose, which is to help the youth across the globe reach their dreams and help them build the confidence in themselves to say, “Yes, I can. Yes, I must. Yes, I will build a brighter future for myself.”
The Hinsey Family
Makeshift Basketball Goals in The Bahamas