A Q + A with Spurs rookie George Hill.
George Hill found time in his busy donut-delivering schedule to be the Spurs starting point guard. The rookie out of IUPUI scored 20 points or more in three straight games while starting in place of injured Tony Parker. Although the Spurs will likely need a snack before they need another point guard, Hill is prepared to fill holes when he has to.
The Indianapolis native was largely overlooked out of Broad Ripple High School, Hill was recruited by some basketball powerhouses, but ultimately chose to stay close to family and attend IUPUI. Hill helped the Jaguars share the Summit League’s best record as a sophomore. He averaged 21.8 ppg as a redshirt junior and, although he was entitled to a fifth year, Hill entered the NBA draft and never looked back.
The Spurs made Hill a first round draft pick in 2008 and the organization has shown nothing but confidence in his abilities and potential. While leading the Spurs in steals, he currently ranks among the Top 15 rookies in scoring with 9 points in just over 20 minutes of court time. Don’t be surprised if he earns a spot in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star Weekend.
SLAM: Do you think you were a little overlooked coming out of high school and college?
George Hill: I would say so. Coming out of high school, I was highly recruited, but I just wanted to stay at home. My Grandfather was sick and about to pass away, and I wanted to stay close to him and family. It ended up that IUPUI was five minutes from my Grandfather’s nursing home and my family was right down the street. I didn’t want to take the chance of going far away and have my Grandfather not able to see me. He ended up passing away right before I was going to go to IUPUI and it was either go to prep school or go on to IUPUI. I knew that things happened for a reason so I just suck with my decision.
A lot of people didn’t know about me because I came from the City schools and they didn’t want to take a chance on an inner-city kid—that’s what I think most of it was. I think it all played out well. A lot of people didn’t want to give me recognition because of where I came from—IUPUI is a mid-major—where I was putting up good numbers but because it’s a mid-major you get a little underestimated. I learned that you always have to respect everyone who is out on the floor because everyone is valuable to their team if they are touching the ball.
SLAM: When did it hit you that you were in the League?
GH: I realized when I was really in the NBA on the first day of training camp. It was a great time. It was the first time you really got to see working out together and trying to achieve one goal and that’s to win a championship at the end of the year. It was a great feeling to be with players that I had watched growing up and always tried to paten my game after. It was great to be side-by-side next to them, talking to them about plays and stuff like that.
SLAM: Were you surprised at all by anything in the League when you first got here?
GH: The height of guys surprised me. Some people say they’re 6-3, but they’re really 6-foot-flat. The other thing that surprised me was the amount of the games that we played back-to-back. I thought it was more like two games a week, I didn’t realize it was so many in one stretch, but you get used to it.
SLAM: You had some eligibility left after redshirting as a junior, how did you know going to the League was the right move?
GH: I broke a bone in my right foot as a junior, but as soon as I put my name in after my third full-year, I knew it was the right move for me. Once I put my mind to something, I try to do it and not regret anything. Once I put my name in, I told everybody that there was no turning back. It was going to make me or break me because I know how tough it is when you go back to college. People usually start to look at all the negative aspects of why you pulled out of the draft. All my heart was into it and I prayed before I put my name in. I said, “Just lead me to it the best way I can.” It turned out great.
SLAM: What do you feel like was your biggest advantage in adapting to the pros?
GH: I think it’s my teammates here in San Antonio. You can learn a lot from all of the guys up and down our roster. Tim Duncan, Manu and Tony, Kurt Thomas and Jacque Vaughn are all guys you can speak to and learn from. I’ve talked to Jacque about leadership. I’ve talked to Bruce Bowen about defense. I talked to Tim Duncan about how to have long-term success. I’ve talked to TP about becoming a true point guard. I think it’s my teammates that have helped me had a successful start so far. They’re always there for me and they’re never down on me. They’re always there to pick me up, and I give them a lot of credit for that.
SLAM: What was it about your game that you feel the scouts noticed?
GH: I think it’s my heart and desire. I have tattoos on the back of my arm that says, “Heart and Desire.” I think that coming into pre-draft came, with good numbers from a small school and nothing to loose, I showed them that I have the heart and desire to be the best that I can, that I won’t ever give up and I take the challenge. I think that’s one thing Coach Pop saw in me and I was very humbled by it. I’m going to give him 110 percent.
SLAM: Was there a lot of pressure going into this season in knowing you’d be going to a very competitive team?
GH: It was really a great feeling over all. If I really am competitive and have the desire, then what better position is there to be in? When it comes to the Spurs, the focal point is defense and the way they play, as a team is so consistent. As a young player, you always think about the things that might not go right, but I always thought that I could make a contribution to this team. I just want to use my youth, athleticism, and long arms to help be the best player I can be for this team. Each morning at practice I feel myself getting better than I was the day before and I think that’s the thing that got me out on the court. Coach Pop saw that I don’t back down from anyone and that I work hard and I think he know that sometimes when you have that mentality things take care of themselves.
SLAM: Who’s the hardest guy you’ve had to defend so far?
GH: Chauncey Billups is tough—just his tenacity alone. You can’t go under screens with him because he’ll knock the jumper down and you can’t go over them because he can take you to the basket. He’s smart. He knows how to run the team. He knows how to put points up. He’s a tough player who can also play defense and dealing with him can be tough.
SLAM: What are the difference in the role you played at IUPUI and the role you play on the Spurs?
GH: The biggest difference is that I’m not that go-to guy anymore. In college, I was the go-to guy and the plays were run around me. I wasn’t really a point guard; I just handled the ball a lot in college. Here, my role is to be the point guard and run the team to the best of my ability. Becoming a point guard was the biggest change—coming from a mid-major and not really being a point guard going to the NBA level and trying to play the toughest position in basketball. I think that was the main thing.
SLAM: Did Tony Parker give you any advice when he went down?
GH: Just to do me. He’d always say, “Do what got you here and everything will be OK.” Sometimes you get mad at yourself for missing shots you were supposed to make or turning the ball over, but Tony Parker, a great leader, told me to keep my head up. It was just a great team effort on and off the court.
SLAM: You had four games in a row with 20 points or better while Tony was out.
GH: It came from more minutes and me being more aggressive. Coach Pop kept telling me that when TP went down, I needed to be more aggressive and he gave me the green light and took advantage of it.
SLAM: What guy do you look up to most on the team?
GH: You’re going to have to look up to the big three, Duncan, Manu and Tony—there is just something about them. Jacque Vaughn and Kurt Thomas, I can’t say enough about those two guys, they’re both great leaders and veterans. They’re always have their heads up high even when they only play a few minutes here and there and there always working hard to get better.
SLAM: Do you have to do any annoying rookie chores?
GH: I’ve been lucky, I just have to get donuts for everyone and that’s it. They have two donut shops here, they have Shipley’s and they have Crispy Crème. Tim likes fruit-filled donuts. Some people like Crispy Crème donuts and others just like plain old donuts. It always come down to not a lot of donuts get eaten, and I end up buying them just to buy them sometimes.