HUNTINGTON - Dennis Tinnon celebrated the Fourth of July in a new way this summer – electronically. He spent the day texting, tweeting, Facebooking and plenty of plain old talking on the telephone, responding to friends’ congratulations messages.
That’s because he had gotten word the day before that he was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and would be back at Marshall for a final basketball season, bringing to an end a stressful period of several months.
“That was a horrible time, not good at all. Not only for me, but it was my whole family,” Tinnon said, referencing the impact on his wife, Robin, and their daughter, Denyah. “It’s one thing if I’m up in the air, but when others are relying on you, too, it’s that much more.
“Would I be here at Marshall? Would I be trying to play pro ball somewhere? Is it possible we’ll have to go back home? Whatever the answer was, we would make do. But not knowing as it went along was so hard.”
The situation had been weighing heavily since the end of last season, a period of limbo that had been relieved on July 3 – but even that included a scary moment, courtesy of his head coach.
“I was over at the Shewey Building working with one of my tutors and Coach Herrion stuck his head in the door and said he needed to see me when I was done,” Tinnon said. “When I finished up he took me into (Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff Jeff) O’Malley’s office and (Associate AD for Compliance Derek) Gwinn was in there, too.
“Coach closed the door and had this bad look on his face and said, ‘You didn’t get your year back.’
“I just had time enough to think, ‘Oh, no,’ then he got this big smile and said, ‘No, I’m playing with you, Dennis. We got it. You have another year.’ He got me good, but it was just for a second. He didn’t make me sweat it long.”
Tinnon had, in effect, been granted a sixth season of eligibility because his NCAA “clock” had technically started during a short stint in 2007 at Williston State, a junior college in North Dakota. Even though he left and went and returned home to Green Bay, Wis., just a few weeks later, without even practicing with the basketball team, that five-year clock had begun to tick.
Now, Tinnon had new life at Marshall.
“I was so excited and I couldn’t stop smiling,” he said. “I kept that smile on my face so long my cheeks hurt.
“We went over and told the team and then the word got out and my phone just blew up. Twitter, Facebook, texting, calls – people just telling me, ‘Congratulations.’ I couldn’t even keep up. While I was answering one, I got two more. It took me two days to get back to everybody.”
Tinnon had been working hard all summer, but now he knew what he was working toward.
“I hadn’t even been able to put together a Plan B in case the NCAA ruled against me,” he said. “I had to keep planning and preparing and working to be at Marshall, so I couldn’t be working toward something else.
“If the ruling had gone the other way, it would have been hard because I would have had to do something very quickly, and when you rush it’s hard to make the best decisions. I just kept praying to God that things would work out that I’d get my year back at Marshall. Now that it’s worked out this way I can set a normal plan in place once next season is over.”
The one thing Tinnon did know for sure during those otherwise uncertain months was that he wanted to improve his game, whether it would be used at Marshall or toward his ultimate goal of playing professionally. That started in the weight room, where he has bulked up from 215 pounds last season to 232.
“I can still do anything that I did last year at the lower weight, plus I’m stronger and more explosive now,” Tinnon said. “Coach Joe (Varga, Strength and Conditioning Coach) has worked me hard and I owe a lot to him. He tells me, ‘Tinnon, do this and you’ll be a beast this year.’
“Now I’ll be able to go in there and throw my body around, to move somebody out of the way for a rebound. Instead of just having to rely on my athleticism, I’ll be able to get my share by battling and fighting for that ball, too.”
The 6-foot-8 forward has also worked to diversify to his game on the floor, where he averaged a double-double of 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season.
“I’ve been working to be a more versatile player,” he said. “I needed to be able to step out and shoot more, and I’ve really worked hard to be consistent on that 15- or 17-foot shot. Pick and pops, one dribble and pull up, a lot of things that will make me harder to defend.
“The same thing is true on defense; I don’t want to just be able to guard a four man. I need to be able to guard a smaller player, too, if that’s what we need to take advantage of.”
The other thing Tinnon hopes to add to this year’s Herd is leadership, which will be a new mantle for him.
“I’ve never really had to be a leader before in my career,” Tinnon said. “There were always guys who’d been there ahead of me and my situation was often different.
“But that’s not the way it is now. I’m a senior, I’m the oldest guy on the team, I’ve been here and know the system and what it will take
to reach our goals – it’s time for me to be a leader. I don’t have to do it all, because DeAndre Kane and Nigel Spikes and Yous Mbao have been here and know these things, too, but I have to do my part.”
Plus, Tinnon doesn’t want to waste the new lease on his Marshall life.
“Since my future here was in doubt for that period of time, this did give me even more appreciation for what this year is for me,” he said. “It would have been awful if I didn’t have this chance. I have even more energy and enthusiasm and motivation to take advantage of it than I did before.
“The day we got the word, I was so excited I’d have been ready to start the season right then.”
Day by day, that season is quickly approaching.