by Bill DiFilippo / @bflip33
Earlier this month, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the Women’s National Association of Basketball Coaches teamed with Allstate to choose 201 Division I, II and III men’s and women’s basketball players as nominees for the 2014 Allstate Good Works Team. The team looks to “honor players at all levels of college basketball who represent the sport’s finest in the areas of leadership and charitable achievements amongst their peers.”
One of the many people on the committee who selects these players is former NBA great Grant Hill. We sat down with the former All-Star to talk about the team, his involvement, the NBA and his alma mater, Duke.
SLAM: What is the Good Works Team?
Grant Hill: The Allstate NABC is honoring a group of college players who have stood out for their charitable achievements and community involvement. We live in a world where so many of the bad things, so many of the bad decisions guys make off the court, are publicized, so this is really about putting the spotlight on student-athletes who have done some amazing things enriching the lives of others, in their communities. Over 100 college basketball players were announced as nominees for this team, and it’s exciting as a former student athlete and a panelist who has tried to do the right thing and make a positive impact on the community—it’s really exciting for me to be a part of this initiative and looking forward to who the finalists are.
SLAM: How exactly are you involved in it?
GH: I’m involved with the great Tamika Catchings, she’s involved as well on the women’s side. But I’m a panelist, so I’ve gone through and looked at the nominees. We’ve gone through and looked at their stories, we submit who we feel should be finalists, I will be at the Final Four along with Allstate helping to recognize the achievements of those who are honored and who won, so I’m just sort of an ambassador for the program. I’m really excited, really, really excited to be a part of this because this is what I believe needs to be highlighted, needs to be showcased. Obviously not everybody will win, but to be recognized and to be honored I think is an important message to put out.
There’s a responsibility that goes with what we have, to be in a position, to have an effect on people in the community, I think it’s just the right thing. It’s a good thing, and I’m excited. I’m looking forward to seeing who wins and to be able to be there and recognize them at the Final Four will be a great accomplishment and a great honor for me.
SLAM: How do you select the players are honored in this first group of 100+ players?
GH: We went through and, you know, there’s a process and there’s a number of people who are on this sort of panelist selection committee, if you will, and we read their stories. From there, we give our top lists, we submit that to the folks at Allstate, and they narrow it down and will continue to narrow it down throughout the year. I’m a small part in it, but I’m playing a part, and it feels good to be vested in it, but these are amazing stories, and it’s hard to recognize everybody and you want to give everybody an award because everybody’s doing some amazing things. But ultimately, a group of panelists, myself included, are narrowing down to the finalists.
SLAM: This is the first year since 1994 that you’re not an active NBA player. How’s that transition been for you?
GH: It’s been good. It’s been a transition. I’ve enjoyed where I’m at now. I miss some things, some aspects of the game and the league and so on, but I’m excited about what I’m doing now, having the chance to do things like this Allstate deal, some business ventures, some television. I’m enjoying staying still around the game of basketball but also doing some things entirely different and really just tapping into some of the interests I’ve had my entire life that I’ve really had to put on the backburner because of my NBA career.
SLAM: How closely have you followed the League now that you can take a step back and not worry about the everyday grind?
GH: It’s interesting. I think as you get older as a player, you spend so much time staying in shape, working on your body, getting treatment, doing all these things, and of course you play and you have practice, so I found that I did not watch as much basketball the last five years of my career. Now, I can watch and you really have no skin in the game, so you can watch games and it’s really part of my job, responsibility as an analyst and as a broadcaster, so I really have to be aware of not just one team but all the teams. So it’s fun to be able to sort of, you’re not rooting against teams, you’re not worried about jockeying teams for position, you’re just sort of watching and appreciate the basketball and looking at it through a different lens.
Obviously I’m not that far removed, so there are guys that I know that I play with, so you watch them and you follow them, but I find that I’m watching it more on television, one because I need to know what I’m talking about, but two because I’m not around it as much, so for me to watch it as a fan and get that perspective is something that I enjoy and something I need.
SLAM: Who’s the best team in the NBA right now?
GH: I think the Pacers. They got so close last year and they’ve come back like a team on a mission. I was curious to see how they would come back to start the season, and they just look like they’re locked in, they’re focused, they’re playing at a great level. They got a taste of it last year, and they got a bitter taste in their mouth in terms of how things went. At this point in time, I really like them. They’re my team in terms that they’re the No. 1 team thus far, but it’s a long season and we have to wait until the end to see how it all plays out.
SLAM: If you got the call tomorrow that a team wanted to sign you, do you think you could still play?
GH: Not tomorrow, but you give me a good three weeks to get ready and I can go.
SLAM: Let’s talk Duke. The Blue Devils have been great this season—what do you like about this year’s team?
GH: I like the fact that they’re kind of a smaller team, I like their versatility, I love [Jabari] Parker and [Rodney] Hood, they’re great players, but I love Quinn Cook. There’s something about his personality, his demeanor, and his skill, he had a great game against Michigan. I think they’re in the process of discovering and developing their identity. As good as they’ve been—they’ve had some good wins and some tough losses—they’re figuring themselves out. I expect them to his their stride further on.
What I saw [during the team’s 79-69 win against Michigan] that I liked was they won that game just on being tough. They were tougher. They showed some grit, and that was something I hadn’t really seen from them early on, so that was a huge win for them. I like the guys on their team, I like to process of where they are, certainly Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] bringing them together, forming their identity, becoming who they will become, and that will be exciting to watch throughout the course of this year.
SLAM: Of course, whenever anyone talks about Duke this year, they immediately bring up Jabari Parker. What are your thoughts on him, and do you think he the No. 1 pick in the Draft whenever he decides to declare?
GH: You never know. I certainly think that he’s in the conversation. You have to put him up there as one of the top players. You never now how things are gonna play out, but he’s a great talent, just his skill set, his basketball IQ, his understanding of the game, his feel, he’s special. He’s a joy to watch. Who knows, he may stay another year. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, there’s a lot of time between now and the NBA Draft, I hope he’s No. 1 if he decides to leave, I also hope he stays. But I think he’s in a great position, he’s got a great coach, great environment to play, and I look forward to following him throughout the course of the following season.
SLAM: It’s a little far ahead, but is Duke winning a title this season?
GH: Yeah, I think so. I think they have the ability, they have the talent, they have the coaching staff. I think that’s the goal for them every year, and Duke has won championships with teams that were really talented and with teams that on paper weren’t that talented. It’s so hard to win a college championship, that’s why the No. 1 team seeded doesn’t always get there. To win six games in that kind of environment, there’s an appreciation for that, and that’s why it’s hard to do. With all the great coaches we have, it’s hard to win consecutive championships, to win multiple ones. I like Duke, I like the team, I like the fact that they’ll get better, that they’ll become who they will become down the road, and I think the team that you’ll see in March will be better than the team they are now.
SLAM: Duke has the No. 1 recruiting class in America for 2014 behind Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Have you gotten the chance to check either of them out?
GH: I saw Jones play last year in a tournament here in Orlando over the summer. I’ve seen Okafor play on YouTube. It’s great, one of the things that I respect about Coach K is that through the years he’s still able to connect, he’s still able to inspire, he’s still able to teach, motivate, all that. It’s hard, every generation is different, and these guys still wanna play for him, so I’m excited as a Dukie, I look forward to following them the rest of their high school careers and for the duration of their careers at Duke.