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Hill Leading By Example

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

October 2, 2013

Everyone is thrilled that basketball season begins in three short days, as the Pacers host the Chicago Bulls at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Training camp, however, is draining for all parties involved.

For the coaches, it’s a ton of planning and deciding what to work on in each session. It’s determining the lineups, pushing the players but also understanding that nothing is won in training camp. They also have to be fair to the end of the roster, and ensure they receive a fair assessment.

As the Pacers concluded their eighth practice – two more to go – head coach Frank Vogel walked over and stated that his team just had the “best practice of training camp so far.” That’s particularly impressive coming off a two-a-day, and being nearly a week into things.

RELATED: Agness’ Observations: Training Camp 2013

During a competitive scrimmage to end practice, 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert dove out of bounds not once, but twice, laying it all on the line.

When asked whether he agreed with Vogel’s assessment that Wednesday’s practice was the best so far, point guard George Hill first said, “I’m too tired to answer that now.”

Then he did.

“I think the energy level that we had today, the amount of communication that we had,” he said. “Everyone [is] just putting their life on the line.”

For all involved, training camp is a grind but a necessity leading into a new season.

“Everyone feels like they're 18-year vets in the NBA, body-wise,” Hill explained. “I think everyone's super tired, over-exhausted and bodies feeling like its breaking down. That's the nature of training camp. You got to take care of your body so that's why we pay our trainers good money to keep us in tip-top shape.”

For the players, with such a talented team, many are out to keep their spot while others are just trying to make the roster. There are new faces, new plays and a whole new expectation level. Each day, players are practicing, lifting, receiving treatment for their aches and bunches of them are getting massages from the team’s massage therapist, Fadi Kazma

Hill said Wednesday that he’s taking care of his health in a whole new way – with a personal chef. A handful of guys on the team already have one and Hill decided that it’s time for him to at least try it.

“I’m probably one of the most unhealthy eaters on our team,” he said. “I still eat a lot of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King and things like that; Kounty Kitchen. Just trying to change my diet to help my body in the long run. It may not affect me now but it’s affecting my energy level and it’s going to affect me in the future. Just trying to prepare myself for my long-tenured years in the NBA.”

So far, so good. He appreciates having meals prepared and he certainly recognizes the benefits.

Hill’s extra effort goes beyond what he puts into his body. After each practice, he’s been one of the last players to leave the floor. He usually gets involved in a shooting game where each player must go around the arc and hit two shots from each spot before moving on to the next. The number of players that have stayed around to get shots up seems to have grown.

“[I’m] just trying to work hard and be the best player I can be to help this organization win,” said Hill. “Our goal is to win a championship and it starts from me on down.”

At media day last week, Hill said the one thing the team needs is a vocal leader and he wants to be that guy. Because of the personality of this team and the number of guys that can contribute in different ways, that may not seem necessary.

Yet already in camp, Hill has raised his voice and clearly been one of the leaders on the floor. In Wednesday’s scrimmage, he led his white team to a five-point win. And he was the one that knocked down the free throws to preserve their lead.

The Pacers go as George Hill does. If he had a bad night, it was safe to presume the whole team was a bit off. In last year’s playoffs, the Pacers lost Game 5 in their second-round matchup with the Knicks. Hill, diagnosed with a concussion, had to sit out. He returned in the decisive Game 6 and although he was just 2-of-10 from the field, he made all seven free throws, dished out four assists in the victory, and seemed to provide confidence to his teammates.

Unlike last year, Hill is healthy in training camp and making the most of it. The Indiana native understands that this is a special, yet pivotal time in Pacers history. He wants to win his first title and it would be even more special to him to do it in his hometown.

The grind to the season, to a championship, continues.

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