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If you are going to have a fan, it doesn’t hurt if it’s the head coach.

Joe Hoeup, a 2015 Elsie Allen High grad and basketball standout for the Lobos, averaged just 3 minutes of playing time this season for the Hardin-Simmons University Cowboys, but the minutes he got showed head coach Craig Carse that there are good things to come.

“I have very high expectations for Joe. I think he’s going to be phenomenal,” Carse said. “I started coaching college basketball in 1977 and I have never had a player with a better attitude (or had a) better team person.”

Hoeup was the backup point guard for the team that for the first time in Hardin-Simmons history won the American Southwest Conference tournament and earned its first-ever invitation to the Division III NCAA tournament. Hardin-Simmons downed Texas Lutheran before falling to Benedictine University on Saturday.

“We made history,” Hoeup said.

Hoeup is ready for more. And he’s working for it.

The California kid — the lone outsider among his Lone Star State teammates — said he has added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame since leaving Elsie Allen. He’s still the smallest guy on the squad.

But Hoeup is a fighter. He was a star for the Lobos as a junior. One game — scratch that, one scrimmage into his senior season, Hoeup was going up for a layup against Maria Carrillo and came down wrong on this left angle. Snap. Broken.

“But I did make the layup,” he said.

The break relegated Hoeup to a cast, crutches and a seat on the bench during the Lobos’ historic run to the Sonoma County League title. But it also gave him something else that he’s used in spades this year — perspective.

Hoeup saw action in 17 of the Cowboys’ 30 games this season but only averaged 3 minutes in nonconference contests and just under 2 minutes in conference play.

It takes something — Character? Grit? Humility? — to endure long stretches of inaction.

“It did give me second thoughts, ‘Should I be playing? Why am I here on the bench?’ ” he said. “It’s a learning experience and like a flashback to my senior year, sitting on the bench, learning mentally.”

The time helped him see the game in new ways.

“It’s a really difficult task being a point guard in college but I really think my knowledge makes it a fit for me and I love it,” he said.

That attitude, perhaps more than his leaping ability, more than his shooters’ touch, more than his basketball IQ, is what will make him a success at the Division III level, Carse said.

“He’s been a guy who, what I would say, bit his tongue,” Carse said. “But what Joe has shown is his character, his coachability and his toughness.”

“He’s young. He came in at 17 but I believe Joe is a major part of our future.”

Hoeup showed glimmers of that this season, even in limited minutes.

On the road against University of Texas-Dallas, the Cowboys were trailing 31-30 with 3 minutes to play in the first half of the conference tournament opener. It was the only time all tournament that the Cowboys would fall behind. According to Hardin-Simmons director of communications Chad Grubbs, Hoeup scored seven points in 3 minutes to ignite a run that put the Cowboys up by nine heading into the locker room.

“That kind of sparked us,” Grubbs said.

And then there was “the dunk.”

Against crosstown rival McMurry University, Hoeup split two defenders on the dribble and went up for a thunderous dunk.

“Everyone was like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’ ”

Hoeup says what a point guard should say. He talks about efficiency, quality minutes and learning from teammate Christian O’Neal, an all-conference honorable mention pick.

“I would say he’s probably one of the best guards in the nation in D3. When we played (Division I) Baylor, he really showed up,” Hoeup said of his teammate. “Going against him every day in practice really makes me better.”

And making Hoeup better will likely make O’Neal better in the long run. The junior put in an average of 30 minutes a game in conference contests. Having Hoeup raise his game and provide a more substantive supporting role will likely boost O’Neal’s production.

“Christian played most of the games and you could tell at the end of the season he was getting physically worn out,” Hoeup said. “Christian is needed the whole season.”

A good point guard is always team first.

And Hoeup’s Hardin-Simmons team should be in the conference driver’s seat next season. The Cowboys graduate just one — senior guard Cameron Barnes, who averaged 10 points a game.

Carse said he expects big things from Hoeup.

“He’s phenomenal,” he said. “He’s A-plus in every aspect. We are very fortunate. It’s just tough when you are a freshman.”

With a full season on the court and in the classroom under his belt, Hoeup is settling in with his teammates in Abilene — for the most part.

“They listen to country,” he said. “I still don’t like country but I can deal with it.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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