Owls need him on the floor

Temple University true freshman forward Zach Hicks is on the trajectory of becoming a key component to the Owls’ 3-point shooting.

Zach Hicks, a freshman forward, shoots over a defender during an Owls’ game against Delaware State University on Dec. 22, 2021. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In freshman forward Zach Hicks’ eighth grade yearbook, he wrote he was going to the NBA.

“Every year I started getting better,” Hicks said. “People used to come up to me and tell me, ‘if you keep this basketball stuff up, you can be something in the future.’”

His motivation to perfect his craft and continue playing stemmed from how easy the game came at a young age and how his talent could put him in a position to help his family, he said.

Now, as a true freshman on Temple University men’s basketball team, Hicks is working closer to making that eighth-grade dream a reality. While working on his skill development and basketball IQ, Hicks is finding his role as a shooter and defender.

In his collegiate debut against Maryland Eastern Shore, Hicks played only 16 minutes but finished the game with nine points, five rebounds and two steals.

As his playing time has increased, Hicks’ 3-point shooting has improved. He currently leads the team with 46 3-pointers while shooting 36.5 percent from three this season.

“He’s taking advantage of the opportunities he’s getting,” head coach Aaron McKie said. “We certainly need him out on the floor.”

Hicks scored a career high  35 points against Delaware State on Dec. 22, 2021, the most points scored by any Owls player this season. 

His performance earned him AAC and Big 5 player of the week. Hicks also tied a program record for most points in a single game by a freshman and was one of five players to make 10 or more threes in a NCAA game this season.

With recent injuries to redshirt-freshman guard Damian Dunn (ankle), who was limited against the University of Cincinnati on Feb. 20, and freshman guard Jeremiah Williams (shoulder), Hicks was tasked with filling the scoring void. 

In a close 92-83 loss to Tulane University on Feb. 12, McKie looked to Hicks in overtime to make key shots. Despite not capturing the win, Hicks made two 3-pointers in overtime to put Temple at a three-point and one-point lead at the four minute mark and the two minute mark. 

Hicks led the team with 21 points and 7 rebounds against the Green Wave. However, despite his natural skill, Hicks has a lot to learn in order to perform at his full potential, McKie said.

“He has to work on putting the ball on the floor, attacking the rim, putting the ball on the floor and shooting some pull up jump shots,” McKie added. “Good teams are not going to just sit there and watch him shoot, they’re going to run him off of the line, so he has to counter that.”

After participating in a neighborhood basketball clinic in Camden, New Jersey, in the fifth grade, Hicks discovered his natural talent and love for the game, he said.

He started playing for SJ Hoops Elite AAU league in sixth grade before playing at Camden Catholic High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Hicks realized he needed to put more time into his development if he wanted to reach the college level, he said.

While playing in high school, Hicks began putting in more hours outside of team practices to improve his footwork and shooting. Besides doing extra workouts in the mornings and after practice, Hicks spent more time in the gym, he added.

With the extra work, Hicks averaged 20 points and 7.6 rebounds and netted 49 3-pointers his junior year, earning him a place in the All-South Jersey second team and second team all-state honors as a senior. 

It wasn’t until Hicks former SJ Hoops coach, Chris Duckrey, introduced him to Julian Dunkley, that Hicks saw a change in his game, said his dad, Jeffrey Hicks.

Dunkley is a former professional basketball player for the Tekelspor Istanbul, a team in Turkey’s top-flight basketball league, and founder of the Difference Makers program, a program that gives youth athletes mentorship and sports training. He began working with Hicks in the 10th grade to help him reach the collegiate level.

“Duckrey always believed Zach had a chance to be really good,” Jeffrey said. “He wanted Zach to have all the resources to compete at a high level, so he introduced us to his friend [Dunkley].”

Dunkley moved Hicks to a more competitive AAU team, Philly Pride. The league change gave Hicks more exposure to college coaches, Jeffrey said.

When the time came to commit to a college, Hicks was torn between the University of Richmond and Temple, but in the end, McKie was the deciding factor in his commitment to North Broad, he said.

“[McKie] knows what he’s doing to bring all of us to our full potential,” Hicks added. “Also, just the wisdom he gives us. He doesn’t make it all about basketball, he makes sure we get a good education and make the most of our time at Temple, education wise.”

Besides improving his game IQ, Hicks’ mom, Geanine Hudson, has noticed his discipline grow in the classroom, she said.

[Basketball] makes him stay focused and it kind of moved into other things, like school, where he still wasn’t perfect, but he understands you shouldn’t be trying to fail.” Hudson said.

With four games remaining in the regular season, Hicks’ primary goal is working with his team to make a run for the American Athletic Conference Tournament, he said.

“I just want to continue to go out there and play hard and play for my teammates,” Hicks said.

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