100 in 100: Northampton County’s Fred Vinson, sharp-shooting guard

After stops at Chowan and Georgia Tech, Vinson played briefly in the NBA

Northampton County's Fred Vinson played for Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech. (Mike Albans / AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Northampton County

Fred Vinson

Fred Vinson is a testament to the widely held basketball belief that great shooters are made, not born.

It’s a skill Vinson first learned as a youngster growing up in rural Northampton County when he rescued an empty can of lard from his grandmother’s trash can, cut out the bottom, attached it above a door frame and began shooting whatever he could find into it. 

The circumference of a No. 10 can is just over six inches. So when his grandmother Margaret Hicks finally bought him an actual basketball and a standard 18-inch rim that was attached to a plywood backboard in the yard, it must have felt as though he was shooting into the Grand Canyon.

“Fred always loved basketball and what he now knows, he learned the hard way,” Hicks told the Ahoskie News-Herald in 1994. “I used to have to fuss at him because he would knock the plaster off my walls when he played inside with that old lard can.”

Once he moved outside, Vinson would often stay there shooting well after it got dark. “I’d have to fuss at him some more to get him to come in and get some sleep,” his grandmother said.

After his playing career, Fred Vinson moved into coaching and is currently an assistant with the New Orleans Pelicans. (Sean Gardner / AP Photo)

Vinson became such a good shooter that he averaged 21 points per game during his career at Northampton High School. But even though he earned all-conference and All-East honors in 1989, his only college opportunity came at Chowan.

The 6-foot-4 guard took a year to adjust, but after averaging just three points and one rebound per game as a freshman, his production increased to 15 points and 4.5 rebounds — while shooting 47% from 3-point range — to become the Carolinas Junior College Conference Player of the Year.

That performance caught the attention of Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, who offered Vinson a scholarship to the ACC school. There, his career followed a familiar pattern. He started slow, averaging just 2.6 points in his first season with the Yellow Jackets, before leading the team with 70 3-pointers and blossoming into Tech’s MVP as a senior.

Although he went undrafted by the NBA, Vinson’s shooting ability helped him make the roster of the Atlanta Hawks during the 1994-95 season. He also saw action with the Seattle SuperSonics in between stints with teams in Mexico and France. He is currently an assistant coach with the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.