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Arizona's Hill continues to develop into prize prospect

By Jonathan Givony, for
Posted May 25 2009 7:29PM

No player in this draft has ascended up the basketball ladder as quickly and steadily over the past four years as Jordan Hill.

Not having played any organized basketball until the ninth grade, and forced to sit out his junior year of high school due to academic issues, Hill is the definition of a late bloomer. He was discovered by Arizona's coaching staff in an AAU tournament late in the signing period in a matchup with current Clippers center DeAndre Jordan and, as legend has it, was offered a scholarship on the spot.

At that point, even Hill couldn't imagine himself developing into a top-10 NBA draft pick.

"Nobody knew who I was," Hill said. "That was definitely one of my goals, but with the position I was in it was kind of hard to say 'I'm going to be an NBA player.'"

Hill has been through more turmoil than any other player in this draft. His mother died of breast cancer when he was just three years old and he bounced around South Carolina, Ohio and Georgia, being taken care of by various people along the way.

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"If you've seen what I've been through in my life, you'd never think that I'd get here," Hill says.

Hill barely played in the first 18 games of his freshman season, even racking up a couple of DNP-CDs along the way. Once former San Antonio Spurs draft pick Marcus Williams was suspended for a violation of team rules, Hill was thrust into a major role in a game against rival Arizona State. He responded by posting 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 32 minutes as part of a 71-47 shellacking that gave NBA scouts a hint of Hill's future.

He was as raw as they come, though, shooting 45 percent from the free-throw line, dishing out just three assists all season and having major issues staying on the court due to foul problems.

He made major strides as a sophomore, but still was seen mostly as a garbage-man type, living off the scraps of Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger.

It wasn't until his junior year that he really broke onto the national scene, averaging over 18 points and 11 rebounds and helping lead a severely depleted Arizona squad to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

"I was hungry," Hill explains. "It was time for me to step up."

What makes Hill such an intriguing NBA prospect is his outstanding combination of size, length, athleticism and toughness. Hill is a terrific rebounder first and foremost thanks to his excellent quickness and intensity, and his offensive game has made serious strides over the past few years.

Although he's not going to be the type of big man a team is going to throw the ball to in the low post and ask him to go to work with his back to the basket, he is going to pick up quite a few points each game simply by running the floor, crashing the offensive glass and catching and finishing on the pick and roll.

As his game progresses, Hill will likely develop into a viable mid-range jump-shooter, and will be effective facing up and attacking his matchup from the mid-post with his terrific first step.

He'll need to continue to add weight to his slender frame and improve the fundamentals of his all-around game, particularly on the defensive end, where he often relies too heavily on his physical tools and instincts.

Although he'll turn 22 in July, Hill is still viewed by many NBA scouts as having plenty of potential.

"My upside is ridiculous," Hill has been quoted saying on many occasions.

Hill's realistic window to be drafted likely starts around the fifth pick -- the Washington Wizards -- although he will get looks from Oklahoma City and Sacramento at No. 3 and No. 4 as well. At worst, he probably won't fall past Toronto at nine, as he's exactly the type of tough, athletic big man the Raptors would love to add to their frontcourt rotation, since he can play both the four or the five in today's NBA.

In a draft completely devoid of big men -- articularly the type of long-armed, physical, energetic athletes that are thriving in this year's Playoffs -- Hill is extremely attractive.

"If there's one thing I have, it's heart and love for basketball."

Jonathan Givony is President and Director of Scouting of Draft Express. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer.

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