Badgers’ Hill an important understudy heading into NCAAs

Badgers guard Jordan Hill attempts to move the ball against a Wisconsin Milwaukee defender at the Kohl Center earlier this season. Hill has anchored Wisconsin's scout team admirably leading up to the NCAA tournament.

Mary Langenfeld/Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — He has emulated some of the biggest names in the Big Ten: Keith Appling and Aaron Craft, Yogi Ferrell and Tim Frazier.

He has done so in an effort to prepare Wisconsin’s regular rotation players as best he can, a relative unknown on a team full of statewide superstars. On Wednesday, for example, not a single media member could be seen near him in the team’s locker room, while starters sweated out interviews by the dozen.

Jordan Hill may never see the floor in the NCAA tournament over the coming days. But Hill, a true freshman point guard from Pasadena, Calif., is a big reason the Badgers are here, a No. 2 seed with a Final Four dream that begins Thursday against No. 15 seed American at the Bradley Center.

All season, Hill has been the scout team’s top point guard, with little reward other than the satisfaction of knowing he made teammates better. The role of scout team players is vital during practice, but Hill has proven to be an especially important component.

"He’s had some of his most solid weeks of practice in recent weeks and months," Badgers assistant coach Lamont Paris said. "Some guys are big-time scorers. Some guys really want to penetrate. Some guys try to do things that are outside of his natural comfort zone. And if there’s one guy on the scout team that can never have a bad day, it’s that guy. He’s got to be the guy that makes them go most times."

Hill, a 6-foot-3, 170-pounder, has spent the week emulating American starting point guard Darius Gardner, who is six inches shorter. His main objective has been to run the Princeton offense and generally provide Badgers regulars Traevon Jackson and Bronson Koenig with an accurate representation of the way Gardner plays.

"He’s a really quick guard," Hill said. "Gets to the basket very well. Gets his teammates involved well. He’s not that much of a shooter. He finds his points here and there. It’s really just a controlled offense to get people going moving the ball."

Hill’s impact on the Badgers has not been lost on teammates, even if the statistics don’t show it. This season, Hill has played a total of 22 minutes and has scored seven points with two rebounds and one assist.

"He’s actually really good for me to go against because he’s really shifty and really quick and fast and everything like that," said Koenig, Hill’s roommate. "He’s real athletic. He does a good job of emulating the point guards that I have to guard like Keith Appling. He’s been really good to guard."

Wisconsin has four players taking a redshirt season this year — Jordan Smith, Zak Showalter, Aaron Moesch and Riley Dearring — but Hill said he chose not to burn a redshirt because he didn’t want to use it up too early in his career. Though three of the top four guards will return to the team next season in addition to Smith, Showalter and Dearring, Hill could provide the spark coach Bo Ryan is looking for, particularly on defense.

"I didn’t want to just redshirt because everyone else did," Hill said. "I figured it’s not going to make too much sense if we all redshirt. Then we’re all going to be kind of in the same position next year. I just like to have it in my back pocket."

What has made Hill so successful in his role this season is a willingness to embrace the idea of preparing teammates. It is not always an easy task, though emulating a different player before every game helps to break up the monotony of a long season.

Hill’s favorite players to imitate this season, he said, were Green Bay’s Keifer Sykes, St. John’s’ D’Angelo Harrison and Ferrell because no shot was considered a bad one.

"With D’Angelo Harrison, I got to pull that from anywhere at any time," Hill said. "That was the greatest."

Though playing time has come sparingly for Hill, he did make his latest effort on the court count. Hill recorded the first made field goal of his college career when he swished a straight on 3-pointer in the waning seconds to put a cap on Wisconsin’s 83-57 victory against Minnesota during the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis last week.

The shot did not sit well with Gophers coach Richard Pitino, who was upset during the postgame handshake with Ryan, apparently because he felt a 3-pointer was unnecessary given the score.

"I did hear about that," Hill said. "I was surprised. I was like, ‘Well if you want to get mad, that’s not where the game was won or lost.’ The shot clock is going down anyway. It’s either a shot or a turnover. And I’m not taking a turnover."

Spoken like a true point guard in Ryan’s system.

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