|Vinson Said Recent History, Proximity to Home Factored into Decision|
|Highlands senior point guard Sam Vinson guards an inbound play against Conner in the 9th Region semifinals last season. Vinson committed to play for Northern Kentucky University on Tuesday.|
By G. Michael Graham
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The senior point guard hopes to do the same at the next level. Vinson officially committed to play for the first team to offer a scholarship minutes down the road for the Northern Kentucky University Norse. Since transitioning to NCAA Division I in 2012, the Norse have won the Horizon League Tournament three of the past four seasons.
NKU finished last season under first-year Head Coach Darrin Horn at 23-9 overall and 13-5 in Horizon League play good for the second seed in the league tournament resulting in a double-bye into the league semifinals at Indianapolis. NKU then beat the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 80-69 in the semifinals before beating the University of Illinois-Chicago, 71-62 to win the tournament title. Coronavirus 2019 forced a cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
Vinson said the proximity to home and recent history played huge roles in his decision. His parents Ed and Debbie Vinson will be able to attend the home games without having to stay overnight places. His sister Rachel, a 2017 Highlands alum, will graduate from Northern Kentucky in December.
"Everything around NKU just felt like home," Vinson said. "It was the right fit for me. They've had a lot of success the past couple years. I want to be a part of that and help take them to the next level."
Highlands Head Coach Kevin Listerman also played for the Norse between 1995 and 2000. Listerman started four seasons and helped the Norse and legendary Head Coach Ken Shields to two NCAA Division II runner-up finishes in 1996 and 1997. The 1997 team finished 30-5 overall losing just 57-56 to California State-Bakersfield in the championship game in Louisville. The Norse lost 70-63 to Fort Hays State (Kansas) in the title game in 1996.
"Honestly, I'm excited for Sam to have the opportunity to play at the next level," Listerman said. "I told him wherever he chose to go that I would be supportive of him, excited that he gets to start that journey and have that experience. For him to be able to do it close to home where people that have watched him in high school can get to watch him play in college and Mom and Dad are close, I'm excited for him to do those things."
Vinson had a number of schools offer him. That list included the University of Toledo (Ohio) and Miami University (Ohio) from the Mid-American Conference in addition to Valparaiso (Indiana) and George Mason University (Virginia). Vinson said he plans to sign in the early signing period.
"Just enjoy it (is) what (Coach Listerman) was saying the entire time," Vinson said. "He helped a lot. (He said) Go through each school and list the good and bad at each one."
The Bluebirds run a lot of motion and ball-screens offensively and play a mixture of defenses. Vinson said he chose NKU because the Norse have similar strategies. It may just be a matter of learning different terms coaches use.
"I kind of know the logistics of (the NKU strategies)," Vinson said. "It's my game and I'm used to playing that way."
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The 6-foot-5-inch Vinson can focus his energies into his senior season. Vinson scored 791 points last year for an average of 24.7 per game making 45 three-pointers and 206-of-257 free throws for 80.2 percent. He also had 279 rebounds for an average of 8.7 per game.
The Bluebirds finished 28-4 last year losing 59-54 to Covington Catholic in the 9th Region championship game at NKU. Highlands won its first 36th District title since 2008 and made it to the region championship for the first time since 2001. The 28 wins is the first time Highlands won that many games in a season since the 1997-98 squad finished 31-4 winning the 9th Region crown before defeating Graves County (66-49) in the first round of the state tournament then losing 72-67 to eventual state champion Scott County.
"That stuff fueled us to work harder in the off-season," Vinson said. "We've been getting after it this whole summer as much as we can with the COVID restrictions and stuff. We're all just ready to go back at it full-go. We're ready to go."
Vinson is entering his third season as the starting point guard. He saw more minutes toward the end of his freshman year on varsity. Vinson said he's hoping to add some weight this summer to better absorb contact. He's also hoping to develop a more consistent jump shot.
"There are no guarantees what's going to happen with our season," Listerman said. "He had some great opportunities in front of him. I told him to really look hard at them (and) if he found the right spot to go ahead and commit early and really be able to enjoy his senior year knowing that he's got that decision out of the way."
The first game listed on the Highlands schedule is Dec. 1 at Ryle. Game time is 7:30 p.m.