By Ryan Hartnett
Orange County: The land of the West Coast wealthy, the on-screen homes of Jack Black and Mischa Barton, a place where the sun shines a little brighter. But Lutheran High School’s Travis Pinick, an OC resident and 6-foot-6 senior basketball forward, is not a star — at least not yet.
Pinick is one of five men’s basketball recruits for the class of 2009. He is also the first left-hander recruited by head coach James Jones in his five seasons at the helm of Eli basketball. Pinick was heavily recruited by several Division I schools, receiving offers from Yale, Princeton, Air Force Academy and the University of California-Irvine.
Pinick whittled his choice down to Yale and UCI. After visiting both campuses, he chose Yale blue.
“It just came down to, ‘Where did I see myself after college?’” Pinick said. “With a Yale education, there are very few things you can’t do after graduation. The coaching staff at Yale and the guys were great — they made me feel like a part of the team.”
Pinick will bring a versatile presence to John J. Lee Amphitheater with his ability to shoot from beyond the arc and play in the post.
“I like to see myself as someone who can play on the wings as well as post up,” Pinick said. “I think my height could pose a matchup problem for other teams. I like to take the ball to the basket, but I know that could be tougher in college where guys are stronger. If I can get where people who guard me don’t know if I’m going to shoot it or drive, that will definitely help me get into the [starting] rotation.”
Pinick was named the Most Valuable Player in his league this past winter. For the season, he averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Pinick’s head coach at Lutheran, Chris Nordstrom, said that as good as Travis is now, he sees him excelling against collegiate competition.
“He’s one of these kids who is just starting to touch the surface of his abilities,” Nordstrom said. “He’s very athletic. He’s a very strong offensive player. He can play inside, he can play outside, and he has a midrange game. We played 28 games this season. In 20 of those 28 games, he probably had a dunk and a three-pointer. I think as he gets stronger at Yale, he’s going to grow exponentially as a player.”
Nordstrom added that Pinick has also improved as a defender.
“The offensive stuff was always there, but defensively — it was a weakness for him,” Nordstrom said. “But he’s improved. From day one to day 300 here, his defensive ability has improved dramatically.”
Pinick played his first two seasons on junior varsity, and he was a varsity starter his junior year until he broke a bone in his foot. After playing through the injury for several days, he finally went to the doctor, where he received disheartening news: He would have to sit out of competitive basketball for four months. On that timetable, he would have been getting back on the court by midsummer, when the recruiting process is in full swing.
Pinick said he got a second, and ultimately more favorable, opinion and was back on the court in a month and a half.
“At the time it happened, I think only Harvard and UCI had shown any interest,” Pinick said. “When you go through an injury, you wonder if you’ll be able to come back as strong as you were before. But I think it helped me focus my priorities and get back to the basics.”
If there were any people who doubted his ability to come back, Pinick proved them wrong his senior season with his big numbers and his leadership as team captain.
The Lancers started the season 18-4 but lost two of their best players to broken hands late in the season. The team struggled down the stretch and stumbled into the playoffs with four losses in its last six games. In a first round playoff loss to Estancia High, Pinick nearly carried the team to victory with 39 points and 18 rebounds.
Nordstrom said that game was representative of Pinick’s growing maturity on and off the court.
“It’s a Christian school, and he’s a very faithful kid,” Nordstrom said. “He really displays that kind of decision-making. He’s got a nice group of friends — he’s a very likable guy. There’s a lot of pressure on him here because his dad is the principal. He’s handled that very well, too.”
Pinick said his father has been the most influential figure in his life on the court.
“He’s always been there,” Pinick said of his dad. “He really never coached me, but he just got me going with people he knew. He never deterred my efforts or my dream to be a D-I player. He talked to me about what we needed to do to get there. He’s also the principal of the high school — that’s how I get into the gym. He’s given me the keys, something he’s entrusted me with over the last eight years.”
Pinick has already started to connect with his fellow class of 2009 teammates. He made his initial recruiting trip with guard Ed White of Los Angeles, and he said the two have plans to play together this summer at UCLA.
Pinick said he knows that he will have to earn his minutes at the collegiate level. At 190 pounds, he is light for his height, but he plans to add muscle through a steady workout regimen over the summer and in the fall on campus.
“Right now I’m lifting four days a week,” Pinick said. “I also play volleyball, which has helped my jumping as well. I’m shooting roughly 1,500 jumpers a week. We have this device on the hoop that rebounds for you, so I shoot three or four nights a week.”
Jones said Pinick’s role on the team his freshman year is largely in his own hands.
“A lot of it depends on what he does over the summer — how hard he works,” Jones said. “I envision a kid who will play two or three for us, maybe four when he gets bigger and stronger.”
Pinick seemed to be of the same mind.
“I think that it all comes back to how much work I put in between now and the season,” Pinick said. “I don’t expect to be given anything. I think Coach Jones is a winner, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get on the court and help him win.”