Justin McCoy gathered his Reservoir basketball team after watching it lose a fall league game on two late misses. He fumed at the shot selection — not the quality of the shots but the players taking them.
“I want to let everybody know this is Zech’s f---ing team,” he said. “... Y’all have the nerve to be out there passing him up and looking him off for shots. … He’s the best player.”
The speech shocked the players and was a bold move for McCoy, who was named the Gators’ coach about a month earlier and was just an onlooker at this game.
McCoy has since given Chin a “neon green light,” and it has proved to be the right decision. The senior has enjoyed a breakout season, averaging more than 19 points and six assists and earning the nickname “HoCo Hibachi” for a 16-5 squad that’s in the Maryland 4A East region final.
“When you put a certain amount of work in, you being selfish essentially is not selfish because you put in that work,” Chin said.
Last year Chin had modest success on an eight-win Gators squad. But he underwent a transformative summer training under McCoy’s close friend, former Notre Dame standout Eric Atkins.
It started nearly a year ago, when Atkins was let go with the rest of the George Washington University men’s basketball staff. McCoy, then just a consultant for Reservoir, knew he wanted to set up Chin with his former backcourt mate at Mount St. Joseph.
“The only player I can remember that worked out as much and was as hungry as Zech was Eric,” McCoy said. “Zech would have been one of those guys that was [playing basketball] with [Eric and me] every day.”
Chin’s three-hour workouts were strenuous, but they were inefficient. Atkins helped with that.
Atkins held group workouts at local gyms multiple times a week. It felt as if Chin showed up to every single one.
But to take his progress to the next level, Chin needed more one-on-one guidance. He asked Atkins, “Can you go in the mornings?”
Chin had listened to the “No Chill” podcast hosted by his favorite player, Gilbert Arenas, who encouraged morning workouts. He and Atkins started meeting for 75 minutes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays beginning at 5:15 a.m.
The coach identified three main issues in Chin’s game: The guard played at one pace, he occasionally had an unbalanced shot, and he lacked an array of finishing moves. Chin would constantly move at full speed, often smacking into defenders before they could react to his dribble moves.
Atkins displayed the effects of varied pace in one-on-one games, scoring despite his quickness disadvantage. He would set up cones and had Chin execute dribble moves through them at various speeds. Working on shot balance was simpler: Atkins would call out Chin any time his right foot drifted ahead and weakened his base. For finishing, Atkins put Chin through different situations and had him problem-solve around the rim.
The school year ended, and the two continued to work, albeit slightly later in the day. In midsummer, it came time for the teacher to test his student. Atkins brought Chin to a workout with three future Division I players from the Baltimore Catholic League, which typically has more talent than Howard County. That didn’t matter to Chin.
“I don’t care who you are; I don’t care what you have; I don’t care what offers you have,” said Chin, who has yet to receive a scholarship offer. “In that moment, I am better than you because of the work that I put in.”
He held his own, which provided more confidence. At one point, Chin scored by slowing down and using a Euro step, a shot Atkins is sure would have been blocked if the guard hadn’t adjusted speeds.
In September, Atkins left to become an assistant coach with the NBA G League’s Wisconsin Herd, but Chin continued early-morning training with McCoy. During one session, on Chin’s birthday, he showed up with a pair of the rereleased Adidas Gil Zeros, Arenas’s signature shoe. The sneaker had slight modifications from its original — including the former Wizards star’s nickname, “Hibachi,” etched on the side.
McCoy explained the moniker: “He used to cook you right in front of you.”
McCoy and Atkins grew up amid the guard’s run in Washington and were huge fans. Atkins idolized the guard — the Gil Zeros were the only sneakers he wore growing up. That created another connection between Chin and his coaches — and inspired the guard’s nickname.
“You’re going to be the ‘HoCo Hibachi’ this year,” McCoy told Chin, “because you’re going to cook these dudes just like Gilbert Arenas.”
The nickname stuck, especially as Chin started the season by pairing his newfound skills with McCoy’s faith. His high mark came in a 40-point explosion against Howard on Jan. 27. The game looked like one of Chin’s gym sessions — every move he used had been honed there.
Chin posed with his team postgame, holding a piece of paper that listed the gaudy point total.
“I made him do that,” McCoy said. “He did not want to do that at all — you can probably tell by his face. The kid does not want any attention.”
Chin doesn’t do social media. He started an Instagram account but deleted it within a day. Even with that reluctance, his star has grown. Reservoir fans show up to games with “HoCo Hibachi” signs, and strangers call Chin the nickname in public, McCoy said.
Chin, whose family is from Myanmar, also has become a model for others in the Asian community. An Asian teacher said Chin inspired her son to play basketball. A young Asian player — wearing No. 0 just like Chin — ran up to him after a middle school game with his mouth agape.
“I just thought I’m just playing basketball … but in those two events, I really get to just sit back and realize what I’m doing,” he said.
He scored 29 points in the last game of the regular season, a narrow win that clinched Reservoir’s playoff bye. Then he scored 34 on Tuesday as the Gators took down Glen Burnie, 88-81, to set up Thursday’s region final matchup with Meade.
“Every time I step out of Howard County … I have to prove myself,” Chin said. “Because even though I am getting this attention, some people may doubt it because it’s in Howard County.”
McCoy posted a video of Chin at the Reservoir gym last weekend. In it, the guard repeatedly practiced his “elbow fly-bys.” He got to the spot before pump-faking and pausing — simulating the defender soaring past him — and nailing a jumper.
The workout happened at 6:30 a.m., before the sun rose. McCoy has seen Chin work out so often in that environment that he has given it a name: Hibachi hours.