Excerpt: The Book of Hill
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Kevin Pelton for SonicZone | November 2006
"The philosophy of a basketball coach probably first begins to take shape when he becomes intensely involved as a player. Once a player becomes a coach, he often does not even realize he has a philosophy until he begins to discuss his view on the subject. His philosophy then continues to develop as he experiences various aspects of the sport." -Bob Hill's introduction to Coaching For Success and Beyond

When the Seattle SuperSonics named Bob Hill the 14th head coach in franchise history in January, one member of the Seattle media had an immediate reaction - it was time to find out the book on Hill. The journalist, looking to quickly gain an insight into Hill's mind, went searching for Basketball Coaching For Success and Beyond, the book Hill published in 1999. What he found was a coach who has been thinking the game since his career started at Bowling Green State University more than three decades ago.

"I'm a big philosophy guy. I think it's important that a coach has a philosophy of all the facets of what makes coaching good."
Nigel Cooper Photography
"I'm a big philosophy guy," says Hill. "I think it's important that a coach has a philosophy of all the facets of what makes coaching good."

Over stops at four Division I colleges and three NBA head-coaching stints before arriving in Seattle, Hill has seen his philosophy mature and develop to the point where he was comfortable sharing it with the world in Coaching For Success.

"Over the years, my philosophy of basketball is basketball was invented to be played at a quick pace," Hill explains. "Anything that is played at a quick pace is subject to error. Anything that is subject to error is unpredictable, so basketball at its purest level is unpredictable. Coaches spend a lot of time eliminating a lot of that unpredictability, but you still need elements of it. We do that through teaching fundamentals and teaching teamwork.

"I think the thing that separates a lot of coaches is you never want to take away your players' innate ability to play. You don't want to do that. You don't want to put them on a track. I firmly believe in all that. Offensively, defensively, if they see an opportunity to break a play or break a game plan defensively and they know that they can make it work, I want my players to feel comfortable doing that."

Taking over the Sonics midway through the season, Hill faced the difficult challenge of implementing his philosophy without the benefit of training camp. That meant lengthy practices during his first few weeks as coach, including teaching sessions instead of the scouting reports teams typically deliver at shootaround the morning of a game.

"Taking over during the season is really hard," Hill says. "It's hard because there's a good chance that your philosophy is different from the one that was implemented before. What you have to do is, while you're teaching your philosophy, you have to break down the other one. So it's a breaking down, building up process. To do it on the fly with games is really hard. It requires a lot of extra time on your part.

"To these guys' credit, when I was asked to take over and we had three-hour practices and practices the morning of games, they took it. That's a good sign."

Immediately, Hill's philosophy of structure with flexibility resonated with many Sonics, who picked up their performance over the second half of the season. As a team, the Sonics shot 44.3% from the field and 35.0% on 3-pointers over the first two months of the season, improving those marks to 46.8% and 38.6% under Hill.

"NBA players are not dumb," he says. "They're smart. Especially the ones that have been around for a bit, they understand how a team should play. I think the style of play certainly helped them respond."

This is an excerpt from "The Book of Hill." To read the complete feature and for more great original Sonics content, check out Soniczone magazine at each game this season, starting on Opening Night, Nov. 1.

No player benefited more than point guard Luke Ridnour, who had struggled with increased expectations during the early portion of his third NBA season. With Hill encouraging him to play with freedom while inside a structured offense, Ridnour averaged 12.5 points and 7.4 assists per game. He finished the season ninth in the NB A in assists per game (7.0) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.40).

"I think you're right," says Hill, asked about Ridnour's surge. "I think probably of all the players on the first group of guys we had, this fit him better and he really flourished."

Days before the end of the 2005-06 season, the Sonics exercised Hill's contract option, bringing him back for 2006-07 and giving him the opportunity to completely implement his philosophy with a full training camp and with the benefit of a roster that was bolstered at midseason by the acquisitions of guard Earl Watson and forward Chris Wilcox.

"The good news about this scenario is that, because I harped on it all last year, we were building a foundation for this year," notes Hill. "I'm hopeful that the retention level coming into this camp is high and I'm confident it will be, which will allow us to move forward quicker. But with a training camp, a lot of the high hope is to serve as a refresher course. We're going to add more things, certainly - we'll throw some offense out, add some offense and probably add some defense - but from a coaching and teaching and managing standpoint, it will be a lot easier starting from the beginning of the season, having a training camp, building them as a group and everything that training camp stands for."