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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Climbing the Hill

    UA forward Jordan Hill dunks during the first half of Arizonas 92-64 loss to North Carolina Saturday in McKale Center. Hill recorded the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Tar Heels.
    UA forward Jordan Hill dunks during the first half of Arizona’s 92-64 loss to North Carolina Saturday in McKale Center. Hill recorded the first double-double of his career with 13 points and 10 rebounds against the Tar Heels.

    Imagine Jordan Hill as a sophomore in high school. His large presence, the intimidating look in his eye as he winds up his long right arm from of all places, a pitching mound. Hill was a pitcher on his recreational park team, staring down batters with an 89 mph fastball and a curveball. He rooted for the Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones, and playing in McKale Center against North Carolina was less a dream than it was simply a non-thought.

    “”I couldn’t imagine that, to be honest,”” said Hill, the lone bright spot in Arizona’s 92-64 loss to the Tar Heels Saturday.

    Despite his affinity for baseball, basketball was always Hill’s passion. But few if any people saw his talent, aside from his family. Hill, who was born in South Carolina but moved frequently between that state and Atlanta throughout his childhood, didn’t play real organized basketball until his senior year at the Patterson School in North Carolina. Prior to his stint at the prep school, Hill spent his junior year not playing because of academics and his sophomore and freshman seasons playing below the varsity level.

    As a kid, Hill spent his Sundays at the court about a block from his house, playing against more than 10 of his cousins, most of whom were older.

    “”I thought I was good, but when I got on the court, I could see that they were better players than me, so I just decided to work harder,”” Hill said.

    Admittedly Hill wasn’t the most ambitious child, nor was he the best student. In fact, if it wasn’t for the opportunity he has at Arizona, Hill said he’d “”probably be at home right now laying down.””

    But something inside Hill clicked after his junior season, a year when grades were a low priority.

    “”I just thought after my grades were slacking – I thought I would never be in the position that I am now. But then I just told myself I could do whatever I want to do,”” he said.

    No one noticed the tall, skinny kid on the playground. No one saw his potential or tried to claim him for his high school team. His family and friends supported him and he “”gave all his trust to God,”” Hill said of that year.

    “”They knew I could do something, so I started settling down in school,”” he said.

    The day that changed his life

    One day, Hill’s fortune turned around. In Kingwood, Texas (hometown of fellow freshman Nic Wise), Hill’s AAU team was playing in a summer league tournament.

    UA head coach Lute Olson and assistant coach Josh Pastner were on hand, but neither had a clue who Hill was. Olson had just watched a game to scope out a recruit he was interested in and decided to stick around for another game. Pastner, meanwhile, scurried to another court to watch young potential UA recruits.

    Then Olson noticed the kid who was so far from anyone’s radar, Olson said he “”was shocked”” when his AAU coach told him of Arizona’s interest.

    “”Get your butt over here as quickly as you can,”” Olson said to Pastner on the phone.

    When Pastner ran back for the second half of Hill’s game he noticed “”the way he ran, blocked shots, the way he competed, and that’s without the knowledge of the game, just based on raw talent,”” Pastner said.

    Through Hill’s AAU coach (due to NCAA rules) Olson offered Hill a scholarship right away. After Hill made his visit to Arizona, he committed.

    “”I didn’t think I would make it so far,”” Hill said.

    The arrival

    Hill arrived at Arizona in late spring 2006. At first, the freshman stayed with senior Ivan Radenovic, but to Radenovic it felt like Hill was barely there.

    “”When he first came in he stayed at my house. I don’t think he said five to 10 words, and it was my birthday that day,”” Radenovic said. “”There was a lot of people around. He was hanging around and didn’t say a word.””

    Hill’s quiet Southern demeanor was on display in public throughout the beginning of the year. The media, like college coaches in high school, didn’t look his way, and when he spoke, his deep voice rarely offered anything longer than a short sentence.

    Before the year started, Hill set two goals for himself: “”not to redshirt and try to stay on track with my grades so I can play.””

    Early in pickup games, Hill proved to the coaching staff that a redshirt season was not in the cards. Center Kirk Walters’ concussion and subsequent bout with mononucleosis cemented Hill’s status even more, but despite spurts in which Hill was the best big man on the floor, Olson was hesitant to use him for long stretches.

    It wasn’t just one mistake that Hill would make, but one followed by another and another, Olson said. At USC Jan. 18, Hill turned the ball over three times in four minutes and got the usual quick hook.

    Academically, Hill said he’s “”doing pretty good”” despite traveling and having five classes.

    Pressure

    During games, Hill was feeling the pressure to perform. Not used to Pastner’s style or being yanked for mistakes, Hill lashed out prior to Wednesday’s game against ASU. Hill said Pastner’s incessant pressure was getting to him and hurting his play, leading to a “”pressure”” conversation between himself and Pastner.

    “”I told him I wasn’t used to all the pressure being put on me, so I’m just getting used to it right now,”” Hill said.

    Pastner told Hill what real pressure was.

    “”There’s a difference between pressure and anxiety and anticipation,”” Pastner said. “”A police officer (has pressure). Pressure is an armed forces individual overseas putting their life on the line. Pressure is a doctor that is trying to save that patient from flatlining.””

    Hill said the conversation “”hit him a lot.”” Since the two spoke, Hill’s attitude as well as his game have changed for the better.

    “”He’s right, the whole coaching staff, everybody knows what they’re talking about,”” Hill said. Before the ASU game, Hill told himself “”to shake all that off and go out there and play the game I love.””

    The confidence start

    Hill got his first start against ASU and logged 32 minutes, setting career highs with 12 points and nine rebounds. Then against North Carolina, Hill topped those career highs with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and a new post player for Arizona had emerged.

    “”I think him starting that one game that was the turning point and the key for Jordan,”” senior Mustafa Shakur said. “”Just getting that confidence, like, ‘I’m out here and they’re giving me the opportunity.’ He was looking forward to the opportunity, and he made the best of it.””

    Hill, who dunked for the first time as a 6-foot-2 freshman in high school, made his own opportunities early against North Carolina. In the first half, he rebounded a miss and threw down a monster dunk for two of his six points in his first six minutes.

    “”Every time I dunk it gets me going,”” he said.

    The last two games have also gotten his confidence going. Hill said he’s less prone to fear making a mistake.

    “”He’s definitely more confident than he usually is,”” Radenovic said. “”His confidence has just kept growing, and he’s more focused in practice. He’s more responsible, obviously, because he’s going to get more minutes, so he has to be.””

    Olson said his biggest concern is keeping Hill out of foul trouble, especially considering he picked up three fouls in the first half against North Carolina. The third foul, one which Hill said he regretted because it was a “”stupid foul,”” landed him on the bench. But Olson said Hill would be working closely with the coaches on being aggressive without fouling “”because we definitely need him in the game.””

    That kind of talk is a far cry from early in the year. It’s a further cry from when Hill first arrived on Radenovic’s doorstop and even more remote than when Hill was plating baseball at the park.

    Now the guy who Radenovic said “”doesn’t close his mouth,”” is becoming the big man Arizona has desperately searched for since Channing Frye left in 2005. Except, in this case, Hill brought the search to Arizona.

    “”He has great upside I think,”” Olson said. “”When you look at the limited amount of basketball he’s had from high school, it’s indicative of – once he gets experience – of how good he can be.””

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