Tahlequah Daily Press

January 10, 2014

Former NSU standout witnesses Russia bombings


— Darnell Hinson has seen the world, courtesy of his basketball skills honed right here in the Gee.

The Muskogee High graduate and member of Northeastern State’s 2003 national championship team launched his professional career in 2004 in Australia, weaved it through Europe and into Russia, where home seemed mighty appealing a couple of weeks ago.

In fact, Hinson had just returned to Volgograd, Russia, from a Christmas visit at home when he heard about a suicide bomber striking a train station in the city Dec. 29. Hearing about that is one thing. Experiencing it was something else.

That happened the next day when another suicide strike destroyed a trolley. Combined, the two attacks killed 34 and injured many more.

“This one was like two minutes from my house. Going to practice that day, we saw what was left of the bus,” Hinson said.

Airports were closed. Hinson’s season with Krasny Oktyabr in the VTB United League was put on hold. He began to see firsthand what a nation bordered to the south by radical Islamists does when struck.

“The army just flooded in here,” he said. “You couldn’t go to the store without having your bags checked, your pockets pulled out and, in my case, your passport checked. It was pretty much a ghost town for a few days with the exception of soldiers.”

Hinson and his team made it out of Volgograd once the airports reopened. They’ve been practicing in Lithuania, awaiting resumption of play on Sunday in Moscow. Two games were canceled because of the tragedies.

It’s all still heavily on his mind — and on those of Russians in general. The Sochi Olympics start next month, 427 miles southwest from Volgograd. Both cities are in the Northern Caucasus region that has Islamic roots. A self-proclaimed leader of the resistance, Doku Umarov, has called for action to stop the games that are “being held on the bones of many, many dead Muslims buried in our land."

Hinson said: “President Putin, he’s a tough man. He’s going to meet this head-on.

“You hope nothing happens, but who knows? I mean I got back and saw this. The train station is next door to where one of my teammates and an assistant coach live.”

There’s certainly been more peaceful seasons for Hinson, 33. He’s making five times his starting salary and it’s all tax free, with living allowances, transportation and a phone thrown into the package. It’s a high-level league — one of its teams, CSKA Moscow, knocked off the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves and lost to the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs in a pair of two-point overtime exhibition games last fall.

He’s had better years — ”this is a down year for me” — averaging 8.8 points, 2.3 steals and 1.4 assists.

But these episodes remind him of what’s back here, including his son, Darnell Jr., who’s in eighth grade. The season extends into March, and a planned team camp back here this summer in safer surroundings looms.

“It’s times like this that make me rethink it,” he said.

But for now, it’s all about staying alert — on the court and on the street.