Hard work, as Gatlin defines it, is all about preparation.
It's studying game film, getting in extra shots after practice, constantly hitting the weights and eschewing the risky, highlight play for the fundamental, basic one. Pinson has listened, internalized and learned from his coach's message – and it's paying off.
With only four games remaining in the regular season, Pinson is averaging 22.5 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.7 steals per game. He'll also play on the East team in the McDonald's All-American game on April 2.
"He's been great in every aspect of the game and gotten better at everything," Gatlin said. "We're obviously without Harry (Giles, the state's top sophomore) and we accepted that over the summer. But then we lost Jaquel (Richmond, a Houston signee) for two months. The kids rallied around Theo and held the fort down until we started getting healthy. Theo is the leader of the team and rightfully so."
If his all-around stats weren't impressive enough, Pinson is also shooting better than 60 percent on two-point field goals, better than 40 percent on three-pointers and nearly 85 percent from the free-throw line.
For much of his high school career, Pinson carried the designation of a non-shooter. Scouts pegged him as a player who had no problems driving to the basket, but someone who might not be as effective if opposing teams dared him to shoot.
"I think now his shooting is his most underrated skill," Gatlin said. "He's been knocking them down while playing heavy minutes. He's doing it all right now… he's getting to the cup, finishing and making his free throws. You can't really play him one way. A lot of teams say ‘let's make him shoot.' You can't do that with him. "
"Then they'll say, ‘OK he can shoot, let's make him a driver," he continued. "You can't do that either, because he can finish and make the pass.
"He doesn't get enough credit for his ability to shoot."
Gatlin and Pinson worked tirelessly over the past year to improve the form on his jumper.
"We've been keeping his elbow in," explained Gatlin. "Regardless of how it starts, he can be successful when he keeps his elbow tight and tucked in. We put in a lot of time with it. That improvement has made the basket so big. He could always get to the basket, but now you have play him for the jump shot too."
In addition to his improved jump shot, Pinson is simply more comfortable and confident than he was last year. Signing with North Carolina, according to Gatlin, allowed him to stop hearing all the negative voices and critics, and start having fun again.
"It's hard with young kids because you want to be liked by everybody," Gatlin said. "Theo has been well-known since he was in the eighth grade. I think he figured out that he was blessed and after committing to North Carolina realized that ‘I only have to please the team that I'm going to.' Once he figured that out that North Carolina is all he has to please, everything else took care of itself. It's been great to see him go from 13 points per game to almost 23 points per game."
When he enrolls at UNC in June, Gatlin expects Pinson to be an impact player because of his versatility.
"He can play multiple positions," said Gatlin. "Where he plays will likely depend on matchups and how Coach Williams wants to use him. He can play the ‘1,' ‘2,' and ‘3,' defend the ‘1,' ‘2' and ‘3' and he can run. He can finish or he can get a rebound. We don't let position become a thought process in Theo's mind. If you can play, they'll find a place for you."