Hill returns to L.A. with defensive state of mind

LOS ANGELES – Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill grew up a fan of players, not teams.

Hill, a native of Los Angeles, was never caught up in Lakers fandemonium like the majority of the city.

He preferred to watch Vince Carter.

“He was one of the greatest dunkers of all-time,” Hill said of Carter.

As Hill’s grown and matured, he began studying other aspects of the game and other players, thanks to some coaxing of his ex-Fairfax High School coach Harvey Kitani. Defense was heavily stressed under Kitani, who told Hill that defense would be his ticket to climbing the basketball ladder. 

With aspirations of playing at the next level, Hill, who’s a projected second-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft, has now become a fan of players like Miami Heat forward Shane Battier and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha.

“You start to understand as you get older it’s more about business,” Hill said. “They don’t pay everybody in the NBA to score buckets. It’s not about that. They need guys like Shane Battier. Shane Battier can go out there and hit three’s and he guards everybody.

“If you want to make money at the next level it’s about picking your battles. I don’t want to be Kobe. I don’t want to be LeBron James. I want to be the guy that plays defense and and hit three’s.”

This season, Hill grew into one of the best defenders in the Pac-12 conference. UCLA fans have to look no further than two weeks ago to see the type of impact he can have on a game.  For the Bruins, it was their last win of the season. Most will recall Jordan Adams lighting up the Wildcats for 24 points before breaking his foot on the last play of the game. 

Adams’ second-half heroics were very much needed as hewas picking up the slack for leading scorer Shabazz Muhammad, who was having an off night thanks to Hill. The former Fairfax star held Muhammad to just 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Hill’s immensely versatile, with the ability to guard multiple positions. His task on Thursday, when the Wildcats take on Ohio State in the West Regional semifinal at Staples Center, will be trying to slow down the Buckeyes’ leading scorer Deshaun Thomas, who’s averaging 19.7 points per game.

After studying Thomas on film, there are some similarities Hill can take from the Pac-12 semifinal matchup with Muhammad into Thursday night. For starters, both are left-handed. Secondly, Hill says the key is always taking a player out of their comfort zone.

Going up against Muhammad, Hill wanted to limit his touches coming off of curls because that’s where the UCLA freshman was comfortable. Thomas, on the other hand, likes to get comfortable early.

“Thomas is a guy that he gets comfortable hitting the three’s,” Hill said. “He’ll hit a couple of three’s early and he’ll feel better about himself.”

Arizona’s last trip to Los Angeles didn’t end so well — the Wildcats were swept by USC and UCLA during Pac-12 play.

Hill hopes the results are better this time around and wants to make sure he’s feeling good about himself after playing good defense on Thomas and maybe knocking down a few three’s of his own.