Get To Know Casey Hill
The last time we saw Casey Hill, he was an assistant coach for the NBA D-League Select Team in Las Vegas -- a team that impressively went 4-1 this summer. Prior to that, Hill spent the past two season as an assistant with the Dakota Wizards/Santa Cruz Warriors organization. On August 23, Santa Cruz named Hill the team's new head coach. NBADLeague.com caught up with Hill to talk about his experiences this summer and what he thinks of his opportunity with Santa Cruz.
NBADLeague.com: Talk a little bit about being on the NBA D-League Select Team coaching staff this summer and what you got out of that whole experience, coaching those players and working with that coaching staff.
Santa Cruz Head Coach Casey Hill: It was a heckuva an experience coaching with (NBA D-League Select Team Head Coach) Alex Jensen. After having worked with him, it was pretty obvious to me why he was named the Coach of the Year. Heís a phenomenal coach and he deserves the success that heís experience thus far in his career and I think heís going to go a long way. And I think that the players that we had, it was almost like a perfect storm because they all had this lunch pale, total work attitude about the whole situation. When other teams would maybe give up, our guys pushed harder, which I think is a big part of the reason we had a 4-1 record. I think thatís best D-League Summer League record so thatís phenomenal and I was fortunate enough to be a part of it.
Hill: I think that the D-League, especially last year, had its best year in its history last year. Looking at the level of talent that was on the floor in the finals last year, it was mind blowing. I remember sitting there thinking Ďholy crap, this is a great matchup.í It was two phenomenal teams. And to be honest with you, I think that the D-League gets a bad rap. I think that right now itís at its highest point in terms of the way it's looked at by the guys that are above us. Itís our job, my job as a new head coach or even if I was going to be an assistant, to keep it going, to keep that train gaining momentum until we have every NBA team with a single affiliate and itís a completely cohesive relationship because thatís the goal. But I think that we made great strides last year in terms of doing that and itís a really exciting time to be involved in the D-League and Iím more than fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to be a head coach.
NBADLeague.com: Part of the good fortune is that youíre affiliated with Golden State who seems to have really bought into Santa Cruz because of the recent move and the way theyíve used the assignment system etc. Talk a little bit about that relationship and how good it is to be affiliated with an NBA team that is so heavily invested.
Hill: Itís phenomenal. Thatís the best way I can describe it. Youíve got an NBA franchise, from top to bottom, not just in Santa Cruz, but from top to bottom that is trying to do everything the right way. I donít think you would meet one employee of the Golden State Warriors or the Santa Cruz Warriors that would say they are uncomfortable with their situation. Everybody has bought into this and thatís the way to do it. Iím fortunate to be a part of it and itís been a heckuva ride so far and Iím excited to continue it.
NBADLeague.com: Another common refrain whenever Santa Cruz is brought up is how good the fans are. Talk a little bit about how the city has embraced the Warriors.
Hill: The city has been phenomenal. We thought coming in there was a little bit of resistance in terms of us coming in. Itís a town that never had a professional franchise and itís not really a big sports town so I expected that, but when we got here, when we first moved, I didnít see any of that. Everybody that saw us walking around with our shirts on was like, Ďoh, weíre excited, we canít wait for tickets to go on sale.í It was that kind of enthusiasm. And when we walked out on the floor for the first game, it was magical. It was packed, people were still coming through the doors. The level of support weíve gotten from the community has been phenomenal.
NBADleague.com: Something that also helped was that you had a ton of great players throughout the year. Iím assuming as a coaching staff you get a little bit of directive from Golden State. What kind of player are they looking for?
Hill: The first thing that we look for in a player in Santa Cruz, and I think it goes along with every other D-League team that has a single affiliate, is that we look for potential. Guys that have a definable skill, that maybe are not right there yet, but we can get them there. We were fortunate enough to get really good players last year. Obviously Hilton Armstrong jumping on almost halfway through the season was a huge asset. Travis Leslie was huge. I can go down the list. Cameron Jones won most improved player in the league. It was a phenomenal year personnel wise. I wouldnít say that I had a huge hand in it, but I feel like I had a little bit of a hand in helping these guys get to where they were able to get. We didnít win a championship, but we were two games away from it, so it was phenomenal.
Hill: Iíve got a pretty long standing relationship with him. Itís been a lot of fun -- frustrating at times -- but a lot of fun watching him develop and become the player heís still becoming. I think heís a phenomenal player right now and heís got talent oozing out of his eyeball. I think the best is yet to come from a guy like Jeremy Tyler. As long as heís fostered and brought along the right way, heís going to be one of the guys that people are talking about in the NBA for quite a while.
NBADLeauge.com: Tyler just signed a partially guaranteed deal with the Knicks. Talk about how good it is to see a player youíve worked with for so long moving on up.
Hill: It feels great, but itís just part of the process. Itís slowly starting to work out for him and I canít tell you how much I root for that kid. Heís been kind of like a little brother to me and itís been nice to see him have some success. Obviously getting traded from Golden State and then getting cut from Atlanta wasnít great, but he used it in the right way. He got stronger and he got better and heís put himself back in position, so thatís the sign of a fighter and I love that about him.
NBADLeague.com: Now that we brought up Japan, talk a little bit about that. I believe you were out there with your dad, right?
Hill: First and foremost, it was a phenomenal opportunity for me to coach with my father. I remember times when Iíd be sitting there next to him and the game would have just started or weíre getting ready to start the game and Iíd look over at him and Iíd think, Ďholy crap, Iím coaching a professional basketball team in Tokyo, Japan with my dad.í It was one of those sobering moments Ö It was absolutely the experience that propelled me into the D-League and really showed me that this is what I need to be doing with my life.
NBADLeague: One of the themes of the summer has been coaches and front office personnel making it to the NBA from the NBA D-League. Do you ever look around and look at the opportunity you have and realize that it could lead to even bigger and better things?
Hill: I think the D-League is so close to the NBA that relationships can be built at any time during the season and itís a good thing because D-League coaches speak very intelligently about the game and they know they game very well. We have to. Itís phenomenal to see coaches from this league moving up into the NBA because ultimately thatís everybodyís goal. Personally, for me, Iím taking this whole experience step-by-step. Iím not looking forward into the NBA at all. Iím absolutely focused on hopefully bringing a championship to Santa Cruz, but itís definitely a perk of the D-League.