Basketball is give and take, and it has far less to do with pedigree as it does performance. In both the game and the real world, everything is driven by results—and that’s what matters first, last and always.
I say all that to illustrate how beautiful a plan is when it comes together. Allow me to introduce you to Darrun Hilliard, an ambidextrous, intelligent, wing position player for the Detroit Pistons. Hilliard took the road less traveled to the NBA; nonetheless, he is here and puts in the effort to get better every week. He is from the small steel town of Bethlehem, about an hour drive north of Philadelphia. I asked him about his hometown, and he stated, “Being from Bethlehem is everything to me. That’s the reason I wear the number 6, because of my area code 610. I have Bethlehem Steel tattooed on my back. I know where I came from, and I want to change the whole mindset of the people in Bethlehem.”
For starters, he played for his local high school Liberty, a lesser-known AAU program, and when Coach Jay Wright offered a scholarship, he accepted and attended Villanova. What he did next might seem uncommon, however, he stayed for four years, earned his degree, and was selected as a second round pick, 38th overall. When asked about his path to the League, he reflects saying, “It was different than most…I didn’t go to a big time prep school. I just stayed home at the local public school, and did it from there. I was in the gym before school, before practice, and after practice. Just because I knew I was automatically a step behind because I was never on the radar…and I got to ‘Nova through AAU. I didn’t play for a big time program, but it was a good program, and it fit for me. It was my only option. Coach Wright saw me play in Orlando, and it was history from there.”
The first time I saw Darrun play was during his junior year of college. What stood out most was his great scoring ability inside and out and how I had a hard time figuring out which hand he was because I saw him score and shoot with either one. Still, I didn’t think he was a pro until the summer before his senior season. I watched him play without fear or hesitation during the Kevin Durant Skills Academy.
I was there to see Derrick Jones, the high-flying high school junior, but I quickly noticed a few other people who were standing out that day. Darrun Hilliard surprised me a lot. He played like he belonged amongst his elite peers. Ronde Hollis-Jefferson, whom I expected to play well…lived up to the buzz around his name, and a high school player Jaylen Brown, played against KD effortlessly in the offense-to-defense drills.
I walked away feeling very confident they would play in the NBA, and that Brown was ready that day straight out of high school. Hilliard says of that experience, “I learned how to be professional. You see KD in the gym before camp even starts and he’s getting millions…and he’s there early, still putting the work in to stay on top.”
Fast forward to the present day. Hilliard is earning some valuable minutes in Van Gundy’s 10-man rotation, good enough for 3.0 ppg. Hollis-Jefferson is in the Nets’ starting five, but has unfortunately broken his ankle (get well soon), and Brown is a freshman for the Cal Bears, giving his team solid numbers with 14.3 ppg, and 5.3 rpg.
Hilliard sat the bench at first, and has recently begun to learn his way around and feel comfortable on both ends of the floor. The Pistons’ first round pick Stanley Johnson helped along the journey, and they seem to be more like brothers instead of NBA rookies. Johnson is very supportive of Hilliard and vice versa. Stanley Johnson was the first person on Twitter singing his teammates praises two weeks ago as Darrun was sent to the D-League for a day to get some extended playing time. When it was all said and done, Hilliard’s Grand Rapids Drive got the win, and he added a team high 31 points and 5 rebounds.
Everyone has his or her idea of what it takes to be great. As for Darrun, he stays grounded in his upbringing and hard work ethic. He knows what is required of him, and he has been learning as best he can to make adjustments and apply them where needed. He expressed after the win in Philadelphia, that “everyone is just like me…just because I’m from a small town doesn’t make anyone better than me. My whole life, I will have to work my way into stardom. It has never been handed to me, but if I put in the work, anything is possible.”
There was once a Detroit Piston from a small Pennsylvania steel town named Richard Hamilton. As a basketball fan, I would love to see history repeat itself, and with some hard work and patience, I think it most certainly will.