UA HOOPS

Arizona basketball: Longer road worth it

Hill's path to NBA harder than D-Will's, but 'I've learned a lot'
2013-03-27T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:29:58Z Arizona basketball: Longer road worth itBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

His chiseled body and consistent production suggest Arizona senior forward Solomon Hill works hard already, but reminders to improve come anyway.

The last one occurred a month ago when Hill visited the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Arizona will face Ohio State in a Sweet 16 game Thursday.

Hill sat down to watch former teammate and good friend Derrick Williams play for the Minnesota Timberwolves against the Lakers.

Although Williams has struggled at times over two seasons with the Timberwolves, he stood out at Staples on that night, Feb. 28, with 15 points and eight rebounds. D-Will darted under the basket for reverse layups and was even assigned to guard Kobe Bryant - all-around qualities that Hill hopes to hone before he enters the NBA draft in late June.

Williams was there because he scooted off to become the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, instead of staying at UA with Hill for the past two seasons. Hill once thought he'd leave early for the NBA and be drafted high, but he learned it wasn't going to be that easy.

"I think it was a little difficult for me to see that Derrick was so naturally good at what he did on the court," Hill said. "Some people may say he wasn't the best practice player, but the fact that he did what he did in the games, you have to respect that.

"It was just understanding that I'm not him. I can't just do what he does. There had to be a little more sacrifice on my end."

So Hill went back to work. He stayed in Tucson for most of the past two summers, and carried just 220 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame when the Wildcats took an exhibition trip to the Bahamas last August. He had weighed as much as 240 earlier in his UA career, drawing concern from UA coaches.

"Solomon doesn't get enough credit for how hard he's worked," UA coach Sean Miller said before the season. "What I really hope for with him in his last year is that he can finish this season off with an exclamation point."

Hill is doing that, taking UA to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, often considered the milestone of a successful season.

It just took two years without Williams and a few disappointments along the way to get there.

With Williams not around to help cover up weaknesses last season, the Cats slumped into the NIT. This season, they went unbeaten in nonconference play, with Hill flying back from Hawaii with the Diamond Head Classic MVP paddle in December, but UA missed chances to win the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles.

But along the way, Hill twice made the Pac-12 first team while Miller has also credited him for the examples he sets off the court.

Hill is proud of both accomplishments.

"There's so much more that goes into being a guy who can play in the NBA - your habits, how you present yourself and how you come across with the public, the media," Hill said. "I started to understand that. You're being judged on a daily basis. That wasn't something I thought about when I was growing up because I didn't use a lot of social networks. It was just text messaging.

"I've learned a lot. College has really helped me prepare for any future endeavors … and it's been fun. It really has been fun."

Well, most of the time. Last weekend in Utah, Hill described his UA career as a "long, bumpy ride."

"But it's paid off," he said. "To get Mark (Lyons) here was a big accomplishment. To get the freshmen going, they're playing great basketball and the coaching staff prepared the players to come out and execute. The guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Funny how that works. Arizona suffered its worst loss of the season a month ago, just two miles away from Staples Center in an 89-78 loss to USC. The Cats were skidding toward a 5-5 finish in their last 10 games before Selection Sunday, and an undesirable NCAA tournament seed and placement were entirely possible.

Yet Arizona was given a No. 6 seed in the West Region, allowed to start in Pac-12 country at Utah, and easily beat two double-digit seeds to get to Los Angeles.

"You want to win the Pac-12 regular season championship, and you want to win the (Pac-12) tournament, but when you look at it from the beginning, your main focus is the (NCAA) tournament," Hill said. "We took some 'L's' and we learned from that. In the Pac-12 Tournament, we matched up with Colorado and we took an 'L' against UCLA, and that benefited us. You talk about our seeding, you look back on it, and I wouldn't change it."

It all worked out, with a little luck and a lot of work.

Kind of like Hill's career.

"I'm just so excited for him that he has a chance to finish his career where he is, as a winner," Miller said. "He's been a rock for us, from the beginning all the way through. He has grown and matured off the court every bit as much as he has on the court - and I really believe he's going to be in the NBA."

Draft Express projects Hill going in the middle of the second round in the June 27 NBA draft, tenuous territory for some prospects. But if Hill does make it, he'll return to the Staples Center before long to play on that same big stage he watched Williams succeed on last month.

It will be fitting.

Watching Williams "helps very much," Hill said. "We talked about how he was in college, and he said he's completely changed. He's humbled himself in that atmosphere because everybody's hungry for spots.

"When he humbled himself in the pros, I felt like I have to take full advantage of every opportunity that's given to me, and to not have things where I have to face myself in the mirror."

On StarNet: Join Star reporter Patrick Finley at 11 a.m. today for a live chat from Los Angeles at live.azstarnet.com

On StarNet: See more photos from the Cats' tournament wins at azstarnet.com/gallery

Sweet 16

• Who: No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 2 Ohio State

• Where: Los Angeles

• When: 4:47 p.m. Thursday

• TV: TBS

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at bpascoe@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @BrucePascoe

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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