HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Peanut butter crackers and fruit snacks are the pregame "go-to" nourishment for Northern Kentucky University freshman guard Sam Vinson.
There is no reason for that successful routine to change as the NKU men's basketball regular season concludes next week with two games at BB&T Arena in Highland Heights.
After all, Vinson, a 2021 Highlands High School graduate, has been named a Horizon League freshman of the week seven times this season for the Norse (15-10) as it prepares for the conference tournament in March.
Vinson's ability to defend and create offense is evident through starting all 25 games. But, he also likes the opportunity to prepare in a certain way for each home game.
"I will head home right before we have to come back up here, take a 30-minute nap and grab a snack," Vinson said. "I always go straight into the training room, get some massage work, some stretching and come out onto the court."
The 6-foot-5 guard averages 12.3 points with 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.1 steals entering Friday night's game at Detroit Mercy.
His scoring (15.7 ppg.) and rebounding (6.3 rpg.) averages are even better on the road during NKU's three consecutive wins away from BB&T Arena.
"I think the thing that's so unique about Sam is in my mind we transition from he's clearly freshman of the year weeks ago to this, one of the better basketball players in our league regardless of class," NKU coach Darrin Horn said.
Vinson, 19, has tied four former freshmen for third all-time in Horizon League weekly awards history including Norse teammate Marques Warrick who was recognized seven times last season and averages a team-leading 14.9 points.
"I love the recognition," Vinson said. "It makes me feel good and everything. But, we all have one main goal and that's to win a Horizon League championship at the end of the year so just looking forward to that."
Horn said Vinson has earned the respect of his teammates on the court and in the locker room through his confidence and play-making ability.
The ability to rise to the occasion in crucial moments of a game has influenced everyone in the program.
"I think he's had a bit of a Joe Burrow effect in that he's clearly a special player but he's also just one of the guys," Horn said. "I think guys want to play with him which is a really important quality to have."
That leadership was evident at Highlands where Vinson helped to lead the Bluebirds to the 2021 state title.
During a car ride home after the regional title last year, Vinson assured his high school teammates Highlands would win the state championship.
"For Sam, it's all about his teammates and it's all about winning," Highlands coach Kevin Listerman said. "He just has that mentality. And if he feels like he can make a play he's going to go do it."
Vinson told Listerman last year he wants to leave a legacy at NKU, a place where his family and friends are able to watch him at home games.
Whether he's signing autographs for kids or having plans to provide instruction at youth camps, Vinson wants to do his part to promote NKU basketball.
"I just want to be one of a kind here," Vinson said. "I want people to remember my name and what I did here. Not just on the court but also off the court."