July 6, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – It wasn’t quite his diabolical best, but when Coach Tom Herrion called Dennis Tinnon to a meeting earlier this week, the Marshall basketball player thought he might be an ex-Thundering Herd player.
Herrion was in a Shewey Building office Tuesday with MU Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff Jeff O’Malley and Derek Gwinn, MU’s associate AD for compliance. Tinnon walked into the office, and Herrion had a grim look on his face.
“I told Dennis we had to figure out what to do; we had to start making plans for next year,” Herrion said.
“I really did think it was bad news,” Tinnon said.
“Then I told him, ‘Congratulations, you got your year back,’” Herrion said.
“I was so excited, I really didn’t know what to say,” the 6-foot-8 senior forward said.
Tinnon was granted another year when the NCAA ruled that his eligibility clock really hadn’t started when he attended Williston State, a North Dakota junior college, in hopes of getting his GED. He attended the school but never played or practiced hoops and eventually went back to Green Bay (Wis.) East High School to get his degree.
“What’s great, besides it being great for Dennis and for our school and basketball team, is that this is a precedent-setting case at Marshall University,” Herrion said. “There was zero precedence on something like this. Now, we’ve established a precedent.”
Tinnon’s return markedly changes Herd hopes and Herrion designs for 2012-13. The third-year MU coach wants to play a bigger lineup, and he has plenty of options, including 6-10 Nigel Spikes – who when healthy is the kind of quality rebounder Tinnon is.
Senior Robert Goff
is rehabbing after knee surgery. Highly regarded Junior college signee Elijah Pittman, 6-9, figures to get prominent minutes. Center Yous Mbao
“is getting better,” Herrion said, and 6-8 Jamir Hanner
and a slimmed-down 6-9 J.P. Kambola seem to be morphing from major college projects into prospects.
What kind of flexibility does Tinnon’s return allow? Let Herrion answer that.
“It’s a great opportunity for us in more ways than just talking about depth,” the Herd coach said. “We can play Dennis some at the small forward, and with a healthy Spikes and Goff, who was a starter, and Pittman, we can change up a lot of things.
“With three of those guys in there, we should be a very good rebounding team, very good.”
Tinnon’s tale is well-known to Herd Nation. He found himself working in a meat-packing plant before landing at Kansas City Kansas Community College. Since then, it’s been all positive until the NCAA eligibility pothole.
“My wife (Robin) has been a big part of my pulling myself together,” Tinnon said Friday afternoon on the Henderson Center floor. “A tremendous part. Being married and having a little daughter (Denyah) and having them with me as I’ve gone through college has given me people close to really share things with.
“Now, there’s this. This is a second chance, just like I had a second chance earlier. With the NCAA, you never know how things are going to turn out.
“This, getting to play another year for Marshall, which took a chance on me, is one of the great things to happen to me.”
Tinnon needs 20 credits to graduate. He said that back months ago when the Marshall bid to get another year of eligibility kicked into high gear, he “had a lot of confidence that would happen,” he said. “But I have to be honest, as it went along and took longer and longer, it was hard to keep faith. I found myself losing faith.
“I didn’t have a good feeling at all until I heard Coach Herrion say it.”
Tinnon, who averaged 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds last season for Marshall’s first NIT entrant since 1988. He was ranked among the nation top six offensive rebounders, “never buckled,” Herrion said. “With all of the uncertainty, he kept his chin up and he kept coming to voluntary workouts. He was always there. He never gave up, and neither did we.”
The Herd coach conceded that when Tinnon was in the recruiting process at KCKCC, he was told of the iffiness of trying to get that NCAA clock “reset.”
“I think a reason not a lot of programs at a higher level didn’t recruit Dennis was the fact that they didn’t think he could get the year back,” Herrion said. “The one thing we could promise him, and we did, was that we would exhaust every effort, use every resource we could to help him.
“I can honestly say I tried to stay in the middle on it. I didn’t try to get to feel one way or the other about the possibilities … and as more layers of the onion were peeled off, it was obvious that this was a very unique case and it was going to take time.
“When you’re close to it, and you see what Dennis has made of his opportunity, the kind of person he’s become, it made way too much sense for him to get the extra year. It worked out like it should have.”
Needless to say, sweating through one of those voluntary workouts Friday, Tinnon was thrilled to know he will be back with a Herd team that most figure will have the firepower to challenge Memphis for a Conference USA title and get the NCAA Tournament bid that has eluded the Herd for a quarter-century.
The senior forward isn’t the only one thrilled.
“It’s great, great for us, great for him,” Herd junior guard and scoring leader DeAndre Kane said. “We’ve been waiting for it for the last four or five months, since last year. We were waiting to play pickup, waiting for him, and Dennis came in so happy, and we wondered why he was smiling so big.
“’Coach told me I got my year back,’ he said. Wonderful. He’s a great player, great rebounder. For us to do big things, we need him back. He’s been working hard all summer. All our new guys here are working hard.
“We’re ready to get back to business. We want to shock the world, do bigger things. The NIT was great for us, but we’ve got to go farther, get to the (NCAA) tournament. Dennis gives us a greater chance at that.”