Morehead State’s A.J. Hicks grows into leader at point guard

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Comments In his first varsity game as a freshman, A.J. Hicks played the entire fourth quarter. He was nervous, he said, but he rewarded his coach’s trust by hitting the game-winning shot over a rival school ranked top-20 in the state at the time. At that moment, Hicks knew he could play college basketball.Four years later, after graduating from Meadowcreek (Georgia) High School as a two-star recruit, he won the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Freshman of the Year award playing for Columbia State. The next year, Hicks was the TCCAA Player of the Year with 19.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game.Hicks has never shied away from the big moments, and he attributes that to his preparation through a high work ethic. He repeatedly alluded to his “body of work” as why he now plays for Morehead State (1-1) in the Ohio Valley Conference. Last year, Hicks led the Eagles in assists (4.2) and steals (1.8) per game while also scoring 11 points per game. Now a senior, Hicks averages 6 points and 7.5 assists per game, and will take on No. 16 Syracuse (1-0) at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.Hicks came to Morehead State during a transitional period for the program. In 2016-17, current head coach Preston Spradlin stepped into the role as an interim option following Sean Woods’ resignation. The Eagles’ star point guard at the time, Xavier Moon, graduated at the end of that year, and Spradlin was left to try and rebuild the program.That started by filling Moon’s vacated spot with Hicks. In his system, Spradlin said the point guard position is extremely important, and Hicks had impressed him with great quickness and strength while at Columbia State. Defensively, Hicks’ instincts and ability to apply on-ball pressure also appealed to Spradlin.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textWhen Hicks arrived at MSU last year, Spradlin was immediately impressed with the then-junior’s work ethic. Hicks picked up on the terminology and reads, Spradlin said, and also made changes throughout the season to improve.In December, Hicks had 12 more turnovers than assists. By the end of the season, he had 38 more assists than turnovers.“He dove in, started watching film, getting extra work in and doing the things we needed him to do,” Spradlin said. “From that point on, he really changed the dynamics of our team going into conference play.”The growth didn’t stop at the end of the season. Hicks made the commitment to stay at Morehead State over the summer instead of going home, and he worked on everything from his footwork to his outside shot to keeping his body in good condition.“You can’t get outworked in sports but also life,” Hicks said. “That’s what my mother taught me.”Alongside his growth on the court, although quiet by nature, Hicks has molded himself into a leader at Morehead State. While he’s always been comfortable with that role, stemming from his point guard position, he acknowledged he’s gotten better at it in the last few years, both at Columbia State and now at Morehead State.For Spradlin, Hicks is the ideal player to have in that position. He and his coaching staff are trying to instill a culture of self-motivation and self-policing into the program and having Hicks as an embodiment of those traits makes their job much easier.“When you’ve got one of your better players doing that consistently, you’ve got someone that you can point to as the example of what you want everyone to be,” Spradlin said.With varying personalities in the locker room, Hicks has had to adapt to get the best out of each of his teammates. Some of them may need a public interaction to get the message across, while others may need it one-on-one, and Hicks has recognized that to strike a balance.Within his leadership role, Hicks has had to be authentic, Spradlin said, and the senior has found his own niche and voice. Morehead State will look to that strong captaincy both on and off the court Saturday night as they attempt to pull off a major upset in the Carrier Dome.center_img Published on November 10, 2018 at 4:39 pm Contact Arabdho: [email protected] | @aromajumder last_img read more