NBA Draft: Perseverance pays off for Hill, the Pacers' first-round pick

Ex-Cat's attitude sways Indiana to pick him 23rd; Jerrett goes in 2nd round
2013-06-28T12:15:00Z 2013-06-28T18:30:14Z NBA Draft: Perseverance pays off for Hill, the Pacers' first-round pickBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 28, 2013 12:15 pm  • 

Maybe there is something to be said for perseverance, after all.

Former Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill, criticized for poor conditioning and shooting early in his four-year career, then projected this spring as a fringe second-round pick, cracked the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday when the Indiana Pacers took him No. 23.

Hill was taken 17 spots ahead of former teammate Grant Jerrett, who spent just one year with the Wildcats but was projected to be picked higher. Jerrett was taken No. 40 overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, who later traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash.

For being the 23rd pick, Hill is slotted into a guaranteed contract worth just over $1 million per year. Second-round picks such as Jerrett are not mandated to receive guaranteed money, though some do.

"Definitely, that's a huge thing that goes on now - potential vs. being an older guy," Hill told the Star by telephone from Los Angeles on Thursday night. "But one thing is that I am an older guy who can contribute right away and try to develop. My goal is to be prepared for that opportunity and do it every year."

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis that he expected Hill to compete for minutes right away, saying he was impressed that Hill transformed himself from a power-oriented inside player to a skilled face-up player who can guard any perimeter opponent.

"We like that he positioned down," Pritchard said. "I'm not sure he can defend a four (power forward) in the NBA, but what we really like is that he can defend a three, two and one."

While no major mock drafts had Hill going anywhere near the No. 23 spot - a story on the Pacers' own website Monday noted that Hill "may still be available (for Indiana's second-round pick) at 53" - Pritchard indicated the Pacers have been quite serious about Hill for months.

Pritchard said the Pacers watched Hill repeatedly and often talked with UA coach Sean Miller about him.

"Sean just kept saying: 'He's a winner. He's just an absolute winner,' " Pritchard said.. "And that's how we felt about him. We think he'll fit our culture perfectly that way."

Not surprisingly for a coach who has publicly praised Hill's efforts in recent seasons, Miller issued a glowing statement on Twitter after Hill was selected.

"Don't know if I have ever been happier as a coach than when I saw Solomon became a first-round pick in the NBA!" Miller said, adding a hashtag that said "#honoredtheprocess."

A positive statement about Jerrett was also posted on Miller's Twitter page, even though Jerrett left the Wildcats surprisingly in April.

"Although Grant was a part of our program for a short time, he demonstrated a multitude of talents as a player," Miller said. "Grant's high skill level, strong work ethic and unique size give him a very bright future in the NBA."

Jerrett only started two games for Arizona last season and was not expected to beat out incoming freshman Aaron Gordon next season. He averaged 17.8 minutes per game last season, but hit 40.5 percent of his three-pointers and his combination of shooting and size intrigued NBA scouts.

Jerrett could not be reached for comment and his agent, Brian Dyke, has not returned multiple messages from the Star.

Former Arizona teammates Mark Lyons and Kevin Parrom were not drafted as expected.

Hill averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds with the Wildcats last season while earning All-Pac-12 honors, and Pritchard said he was impressed how Hill and the Wildcats improved as the season progressed.

"The two traits that we really identified were toughness and unselfishness," Pritchard said. "As we went through this process, we felt he was as tough as anybody and he was part of a team that grew at the end of the year. He was a big part of that. And one of the things we thought was pretty special about him was his willingness to do anything to win."

Indiana was so intrigued that the Pacers invited Hill for a second workout Monday after he auditioned for them June 14. Hill said he took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Indianapolis on Sunday night, caught a few hours sleep on the plane and in his hotel, then stepped on the Pacers' court later Monday morning.

It was his 18th predraft workout.

Yet Hill must have had something left.

"I definitely had a good feeling about the opportunity to play for them again but you never know, especially with a team like the Pacers that's successful," Hill said. "My main thing is try to control the things I can, how hard I play, how much time I can get in the gym.

"The picks and where I play, that's all out of my hands. I can only do the best that I can to be the best I can and show the progress that I've made."

On StarNet: Relive the story of the 2013 NBA draft and catch all of the Star's coverage at azstarnet.com/wildcats

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