The line stretched two, three, four, five deep, Arizona fans in red shirts clutching their phones and craning their necks, hoping to get Solomon Hill’s attention.
They’d have to wait.
Greg Byrne wanted his time with the former Wildcats star.
On Thursday night at McKale Center, the UA’s athletic director pulled Hill for a hug and a chat, appreciating every one of the 4,030 career minutes that Hill logged in a Wildcats jersey.
Back in town a night after his Indiana Pacers fell to the Phoenix Suns, Hill basked in the glow of a loving reunion. He spoke with the team before the game. He visited with head coach Sean Miller. He watched his former teammates lay it on Colorado in a 69-57 win.
He remembered his time fondly.
“I don’t miss the classes; I miss the playing time,” Hill said. “It’s a fun atmosphere — four years, those were some good times. I became a man here. But it was the right time for me to move on.”
It was the right time — and well, the only time — even if, at times, he wished he’d gone sooner.
Hill was a four-star recruit out of Los Angeles’ Fairfax High in the class of 2009, rated the No. 13 small forward in his class, and it hurt him to watch his peers leave for the NBA early. One year, two year, three years — every offseason, he was right back in Miller’s office, having The Talk.
“After probably our 23rd game in his sophomore year, he was really emotional and upset, and we kind of had one of those meetings you remember forever,” Miller said. “Part of what he was saying is a lot of people he was ranked with were on the track to the NBA, leaving after their first or second year, why isn’t it happening for him? What I explained back to Solomon was, you can’t ever rush the process — sometimes it happens early, sometimes it happens late, but if you stay with it, talent will win out.”
Hill was the surprise No. 23 pick of the 2013 NBA draft by Indiana, which now has the best record in the NBA. Hill’s playing time is a reflection of that, as he’s played just six minutes per game in 17 career NBA games, between stints with the NBA D-League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
“It’s like what I tried to preach to Gabe York when he got here — we’re a good team, we have good guys, especially deep at his position,” Hill said. “Nick was rolling, a year ahead. Mark Lyons was starting at the point guard position, we wanted to play Kevin Parrom at the two some. It’s on you to keep competing and to stay mentally ready.
“That’s what I have to do.”
It worked for Hill by staying consistent and grounded, patient with teammates and coaches. He said it was his trust in both that made him return, and that he “wanted to leave on some good terms.”
Given his reception, he left on great terms.
“It’s great for him to come back. I hadn’t seen him since he left for workouts,” Johnson said. “It was definitely great to see him. He’s been a big part of my growth, talking to him throughout the years. It’s great to see him possibly get a championship in the NBA in his first year.”
If anyone left in the program is reminiscent of Hill’s career, it’s Johnson. The junior, has been a valued contributor since he stepped on the Arizona campus, going from 9.0 points per game as a freshman to 11.5 as a sophomore to 16.4 this season.
But he may be on the outside of the first round looking in, and Miller can once more sell a player on the value of a standout senior season.
“Solomon was here tonight, spoke to him before the game, which is a great thrill for a coach, and I told him that Nick reminds me a lot of that career path,” Miller said. “He’s professional, works hard, very similar to Solomon in that it’s not that everyone was bestowing accolades on him.”
They sure are now at McKale.
When they showed Hill on the video board, the crowd erupted.
Hill does miss that.
And with the UA off to a 19-0 start, he does wonder if he could have returned for a fifth year.
“You know, with this team rolling the way they are … maybe,” he said, breaking into a smile.