Still Climbing

by February 19, 2010

by Adam Fleischer / @adfleischer

Most people didn’t know much about George Hill when he entered the NBA as the 26th overall pick in the 2008 Draft. It wasn’t really their fault, though. Unlike many first round picks, Hill’s college team didn’t play nationally televised games, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament (2003—before Hill arrived—was the school’s only appearance), and he didn’t get tons of mainstream press. But that didn’t mean that George Hill wasn’t doing his thing at IUPUI, located near where he grew up in Indiana. The 6-2 guard averaged 19 ppg, 6 rpg, and 3.5 apg as a sophomore, numbers he improved upon two years later when he was named an Honorable Mention All-American and Summit League Player of the Year, posting nearly 22, 7, and 4.5 per following a season shortened by injury.

None of that should have come as a surprise to onlookers or opponents, even if it did. Out of high school, Hill was recruited by a handful of big-time Division I programs, including Florida and Indiana. Nonetheless, he elected to stay as close to home as possible so that his family could come see him play and, more specifically, to be near his ailing great-grandfather.

As a rookie, Hill contributed decently in his limited action on the floor, scoring a shade under 6 ppg in just over 16 minutes per, while appearing in all but five of the Spurs’ games. Now in his second season with the organization, the 23-year-old has seen his role increase thanks to a combination of hard work, talent, injuries, and making the most of an opportunity. Starting 17 of the team’s 52 games so far, his 11, 2, and 2 in 27 minutes a night have helped allow San Antonio to remain one of the Western Conference’s elite teams. Shortly before boarding a plane earlier this week to head home to Indiana to face the Pacers and have his jersey retired by IUPUI, Hill took some time to chat with SLAM about what he’s learned from Tim Duncan, how he keeps working on getting better even right after games end, the toughest guy he’s covered (guess), and more.

SLAM: A few months ago Pop said that you were his favorite player. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with him?
George Hill: He’s somebody I look up to a lot. He has helped me in my process of becoming a better player. He’s somebody I can sit down and talk to.

SLAM: The Spurs have had consistent success over the last decade that few other teams have. What is it that you’ve noticed about the organization since joining less than two year ago that you think makes them unique?
GH: The people that they have around; the veterans. It’s a first class organization and a highly respected organization and I think that’s what sets them apart from every other team in the NBA.

SLAM: You’re playing with arguably the greatest power forward of all-time in Tim Duncan. What kind of things have you learned from him?
GH: I’ve learned a lot from him, you know. How to act on and off the court. Different things that you can take from TD, like his work ethic, that help him be professional. And just getting to know him as a person and being able to take different things from him. [Off the court] he’s the same. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion, although he likes to have fun. He likes to play video games and stuff like that, so in that way he shows a different side to himself off the court than on the court.

SLAM: You play some video games, too?
GH: Nah, not really. I’m not that good at them. Not my cup of tea.

SLAM: So what is your cup of tea? How do you spend your time off?
GH: With my girl and just hanging out, watching movies. Mostly comedy. I have a couple [favorites]: all the Friday movies; Life; a bunch more.

SLAM: Last year you got the chance to play with one of the premier perimeter defenders from recent years. Were there things you tried to pick up from Bruce Bowen defensively?
GH: Yeah, I talked to Bruce once in a while and there were things I picked up from him. How to carry yourself in the game, how you break down players and study players. Those have been the biggest things [I’ve learned] from Bruce. He’s always asking questions about different things you can get better on.

SLAM: This season you’ve had an increased role and played a bunch of positions. What kind of adjustment has that been?
GH: It’s been very fun. I’ve been having fun playing the one and two and sometimes the three, but there are things that I’m still learning and trying to get better on. But I’m ready to keep learning and picking up all the information I possibly can. The position I’m most comfortable at? Ahh…the two. I’m also fine with [bringing the ball up].

SLAM: Who has been the hardest cover defensively for you?

GH: Probably LeBron.I can’t even say how it is to guard him. You just have to be in those shoes to do it. Because it’s like—he’s 6-8, he can move just as fast as you, and he’s super strong. Just do the best you possibly can. There’s really nothing more that you can do.

SLAM: I read you hit the weight room after games. Is that true?
GH: Yup.

SLAM: How does that work? Aren’t you tired?
GH: Not really. Just trying to continue to get better. Some of the other guys do it, but mostly by myself. [And I do it] only after home games.

SLAM: You grew up playing against a bunch of guys in the League right now, including Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Eric Gordon, and others. What’s having that sort of connection like?

GH: You always feel blessed to be able to make it, but then you see other people that are in your same community and people that you grew up with just makes it all better. It makes it fun because you know that you have a place to go back to in the summer and you can get a good run.

SLAM: Thinking back to college, did you ever regret the decision to stay near home for college instead of going to a bigger school?
GH: No, never regret no decision. I chose to stay home to be close to my family and I had fun doing it.

SLAM: But did you ever think, Even though I’m playing well, I’m not getting as much exposure as I could be, and maybe this will hurt my chances of playing at the next level?
GH: No. I never thought about that, because the next level really wasn’t my—I always wanted to do it, but if I didn’t do it, then oh, well. I never thought about it like that. I just wanted to play ball and have my family see me play.

SLAM: So when did the next level become something that seemed like a reality?
GH: As I started to play more and fell in love more with the game. The thing that made me happy was playing ball, so I finally realized, this is something I wanna do long term. And then I took it from there.

SLAM: What kind of adjustments did you have to deal with from college to your first year in the NBA?
GH: Just getting used to playing at that level. I think that was the main thing. The tempo of the game and all that was much faster. That was the main thing I really took from college to the NBA—having to be better at what I do on the court. And you travel from city to city, it’s very tough. But it’s something I’m trying to continue getting better at, and just trying to have fun with it.