After his release, he spent days working toward his GED and nights working in a meat processing plant before getting his opportunity at KCKCC.
Through it all, Robin was there. She'd known Dennis since she was 11 years old. She was his friend first, became his girlfriend and then his wife. She was there to support him and there to tell him to get his act together.
"That's why she's my wife now," Tinnon said. "She's seen the worst of me and she's seen the better of me. I love my wife to death. She's done so much for me, and she'll continue to support me.
"My wife is my backbone."
And she tried to stay strong as her husband waited for the NCAA's decision. She knew that if she showed worry, it would worry him.
"Whenever he is worried," she said, "it's the weight of the family on his shoulders."
She tried to be his rock, but the fissures would show. Herrion never lied to the couple. He never said Marshall was 100-percent sure Dennis would win his appeal, but the university was confident it had a precedent-setting case. Still, Robin said the wait was agonizing.
"I kept trying to fight back the emotions because I didn't want it to resonate with him," she said. "He had to stay calm and continue to work hard. I know when I worry a lot, that makes him worry. He's such a humble person. I basically tried to stay calm, but I constantly stressed about it."
Finally, in the first week of July, the wait was over. The news was good. Dennis would get a second year on Marshall's roster. When Robin got the news from Herrion and her husband, she was ready with a big bear hug the second he walked through the door.
"I was just screaming and Dennis was so happy," Robin said. "He smiled the whole day."
"I smile all the time, constantly, anyway," Dennis said.
If anything, this season gave the Tinnons some stability. Dennis could finish his degree, while 21-year-old Robin could continue work toward her psychology degree. No back-door entries into the professional hoops ranks were necessary. Dennis could work on his game through the college basketball season and go through the draft process like every other prospect.
At 13-18 entering today's tournament game, the Herd's season hasn't gone the way Tinnon wanted. Still, he's averaging 10.4 points and 9.1 rebounds, similar to the 10.2 points and 10.0 rebounds he averaged last season. He's recorded nine double-doubles this year, including three in his last six games.
He's also expanded his repertoire, working on his ball handling and his outside shooting. He's made 13 3-pointers this year after taking and making just two last year. It's a difference from when he arrived in Huntington two seasons ago from KCKCC. Herrion said Tinnon came is as a 6-foot-8, 232-pound workhorse, overpowering and playing harder than most of his opponents.
He still displays that tenacity - his 3.3 offensive rebounds per game is fourth in C-USA by three-hundredths of a rebound - but he's also been able to grow as a player.
"His skill level, his ability to step away from the basket and make shots now and put the ball on the floor a little bit better, he's much more versatile, there's no doubt about that," Herrion said.
And it allows Tinnon to spend less time worrying about his future and more time enjoying the present. When he's on the road with the team, he yearns to return home to see his wife and children.
"I love being a dad," he said. "It's a great feeling. The most important thing is watching them grow and being involved in their lives. It gives them an opportunity to learn things the right way, to learn what not to do and what to do."
Tinnon's teammates see that, and see how his journey through life has molded him as a player and a man.
"He went through a lot of adversity," senior center Nigel Spikes said. "I commend him on that. I can see why he plays hard, goes out and gives it his all, because he's been through so much.
"Look at him," Spikes said before one practice. "Big smile. I don't think I've ever seen him in a bad mood, ever."
Dennis dotes on Denyah, Robin said. They laugh and play and joke. He'll color pictures with her or sit there as she plays with her Barbie dolls. He'll pepper the doctor with questions about Dennis III - what percentile he's in with his height, whether he'll grow tall.
"My son, I'd love for him to follow in my footsteps in basketball," he said. "Not my journey to get here, but to play basketball, not the jagged edge route."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.