Hill set for finale game with Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)
After four years of working on his game and his body, he'll leave as one of the most versatile players in the program's history, a leader whose work ethic and focus have likely earned him a shot at playing after his college career is over.
''He's a true testament to that process that is always talked about in sports,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ''Solomon has been someone who has taken that process serious on and off the court, added to his game, changed his body, added to who he is off the court. What you see is someone who has paid the price.''
A 6-foot-7 small forward from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, Hill originally planned to play for his hometown school, USC, but joined an exodus to Arizona after coach Tim Floyd resigned amid allegations of NCAA violations.
When Hill got to Tucson, he was 245 pounds with a body fat of 21 percent and an unreliable jump shot, little more than a role player while fellow former USC recruit Derrick Williams developed into a star.
Realizing the opportunity he had, Hill worked on his game relentlessly, pumping in jumper after jumper to feel more comfortable away from the basket and working with the coaching staff on his defensive skills. He put in the same kind of effort in the weight room, slimming down to 220 pounds and 8 percent body fat.
Hill also transformed himself from someone in the background into the unquestioned leader of the 18th-ranked Wildcats as he heads into his final home game, against rival Arizona State on Saturday.
''It's my love for the game,'' he said. ''You don't want to be the same player every year. When you're the same player, people pick on you. I had to change my figure and my defense, work on my shot.''
Hill's numbers show one version of his improvement.
His scoring average has increased every season, from 6.7 points per game as a freshman to 13.6 this year. He made a total of four 3-pointers as a freshman and has hit 47 so far this season, shooting 38 percent.
The true measure is harder to see: in the way he slides his feet on defense, his willingness to take over games when his team needs it, the quiet intensity that lets his teammates - and opponents - know that he isn't going to quit, ever.
''I have been an admirer of Solomon Hill,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said earlier this season. ''I thought even before this, his senior year, he was one of the best players in our conference, and he hasn't skipped a beat. I just think he is versatile and tough. He is a really hard matchup. I don't think it is a stretch to say he is undeniably one of the best players in college basketball.''
Part of what makes Hill such a tough matchup is his quickness off the dribble.
With a first step that's almost a blur and herky-jerky moves that are tough for defenders to follow, Hill is one of the Pac-12's best players at getting to the basket. His ability to knock down shots from the perimeter has made it so defenders can't afford to back off to stop his drives and he's a ferocious finisher when he gets to the rim, throwing down dunks with either hand, even over defenders if they get in his way.
''It's almost like he's a runaway train,'' Miller said. ''He's in the open court, has a head of steam behind him, to me it's kind of like the tailback that looks a little faster when they hit that hole. That's Solomon as a basketball player.''
Hill's hard work has put him in position to have a shot at playing professionally, possibly the NBA.
He's a bit of a tweener - not big enough to play power forward, not quite as quick as some of the NBA's top small forwards - but has a strong work ethic and plenty of confidence. Hill also has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to make his team better, playing out of position until this season because of Arizona's lack of size in prior years.
Regardless of whether he continues his playing career, Hill has set himself up for success in the future, about to earn his degree in Study of the American Experience after four years at Arizona.
''That's important for me because it's set me up for the future without basketball and has helped me with basketball,'' Hill said. ''I feel like I'm ready for whatever comes next.''
All that hard work he put in made sure of that.