Veteran coach Barry Hinson has found peace despite never reaching NCAA Tournament

ST. LOUIS — It is well-documented that Barry Hinson was upset when his Missouri State Bears were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament in 2006 despite having the 21st-ranked RPI. That team remains the one with the highest RPI to miss the Big Dance.

“You’re a little chapped about it,” Hinson said. “There’ll never be a 21 ever again — quote me, ‘ever’ — not to get in.”

It wasn’t the first time Hinson was snubbed, nor was it the last. The Bears missed out on at-large bids in 2000 and 2007 as well with a top-40 RPI each time.

Hinson, who is now in his third season at Southern Illinois, just watched his 14th season as a head coach Friday with a 56-45 loss to top-seeded Wichita State at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. He still lacks a NCAA Tournament appearance.

That void on his career résumé was something that used to eat at Hinson.

“As my wife would tell you, it’s been a challenge,” Hinson said. “I’ve been really angry about it.”

Hinson lost his job at Missouri State after posting a 17-16 record in the 2007-08 season.

The Bears won 59.1 percent of their games in nine years under Hinson. But they never won a regular season MVC title nor the conference tournament, although they did earn four NIT berths.

The sentiment toward Hinson’s tenure was “good, but not good enough.”

Hinson wound up as an assistant on Bill Self‘s staff at Kansas. Although he would no longer be running a program, that demotion turned out to be a blessing.

Kansas, a perennial NCAA Tournament team that had won a national title the year before, made every Big Dance in Hinson’s four seasons there. In 2012, the Jayhawks advanced to the national title game, where they lost to the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

Hinson’s outlook changed at that moment.

“I got to put my hand over my heart during the national anthem of a national championship game,” Hinson remembered with a smile.

With that, the anger over never leading a team to the NCAA Tournament morphed into a greater appreciation for the game and for coaching. Even though he was only an assistant, he received a taste of college basketball’s pinnacle.

That eased the pain.

“Going to Kansas helped me a lot cause we played in the NCAA Tournament every year,” Hinson said. “I let it go.”

Hinson turns 54 this spring, so, if his health and passion hold up, he could still have at least another decade of coaching left in him.

The Salukis have not won more than 14 games in a single season during Hinson’s tenure, although they are hopeful 2015-16 could be a breakthrough season with their entire rotation returning.

But even if a NCAA Tournament isn’t in the cards before Hinson has to call it quits, that will sit okay with him because having the opportunity to coach college basketball players is what different drives him.

“I really appreciate what I get to do every day,” Hinson said. “I love my job. I get to be around kids every day. And I love this conference. And just to be a part of it is a blessing.”

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