Flashback to April 2005. At the time no one, and I mean no one, knew who Jordan Hill was. By the end of the weekend he had made a name for himself.
The Wildcats were in Houston to watch the Kingwood Classic, an AAU tournament that draws many of the nation's top teams. Lute Olson and Josh Pastner had just finished watching one of their targets when Pastner left that gym to go watch some younger prospects. With another top target due to play one game later, Olson chose to remain behind to stay in the gym, despite not having a specific player to watch.
A gangly, 6-9 power forward changed all of that. Olson soon found out the name of the player and quickly called Pastner to ask who Jordan Hill was.
"About two minutes into it I called Josh on his cel phone and asked ‘what do you know about Jordan Hill?'," Olson said. "He said ‘I don't know Jordan Hill' and that is find a guy he doesn't know something about. I told him to get his butt over here right away."
With the game in process the staff quickly found out all they could about Hill and his family situation. By the time the Hill left the gym a scholarship offer had been relayed to him. "We couldn't talk to him, so it was the case that we had to indicate to him through his AAU coach," Olson said.
That afternoon Hill's guardian called Olson and the plans for an official visit were set in motion. By the end of the visit Hill had committed to the Wildcats.
In a world where the top grade schoolers are ranked and rated, a 6-9, athletic big man appearing on the scene from out of nowhere is a near impossibility. Luckily for the Wildcats they were in the right place at the right time and were aggressive. By the time other teams called on Monday, the Wildcats already had the visit planned.
"It didn't take long to recognize that this kid was going to be a player," Olson said.
Hill's journey to big time college basketball was a long and crazy one. As a child he moved around a lot spending time in South Carolina, Ohio and the Atlanta area. His mother passed away when he was younger and eventually he went to live with a guardian in the Atlanta area so his father could resume his career as a truck driver.
Hill played basketball as a freshman and sophomore, his first exposure to organized basketball, but did not play as a junior due to poor grades. His senior season saw him move again, this time enrolling at the Patterson School in North Carolina in an effort to improve his academics and his basketball skills.
When he committed to the Cats he was seen as a project, a probably redshirt but he improved so much in his one year at the Patterson school that he looked to be a player who could make some sort of an impact this season.
"My goal is to play right away," Hill said before the season. "I'm not going to redshirt."
Hill was a role player early on, showing the occasional glimpse of big time ability. A tough rebound here, a nifty hook shot there, but could never string together consistent possessions.
With Marcus Williams in the doghouse and the Wildcats needing a boost Hill was inserted into the line-up against ASU. His spot start paid instant dividends.
Hill scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in the first three minutes of the game. He ended up finishing with 12 points and nine rebounds. "After ASU game my confidence went sky high," Hill said. "I came out against North Carolina doing the same thing. My confidence is getting higher and higher. I am going to go out there and playing something I love, and play hard."
Hill was right, he did do the same thing against North Carolina, this time coming off the bench. He had three dunks in his first stint after subbing in and finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The only negative is that foul trouble held him to just 20 minutes of action.
"I was given the opportunity to play," Hill said. "I wanted to play my heart out." While many players would take the success as a "told you so" in regards to a lack of previous playing time, Hill sees it as a culmination of hard work and improvement.
"The games before ASU and UNC I was not showing them I was ready," Hill noted.
For now it looks like Hill will be a permanent fixture in the Wildcats' rotation and could start some more if Olson wants to go with a more traditional two post line-up. Although the fans think he is a lock to play, Hill is taking nothing for granted but remains ready.
"I think they need me a little bit," Hill said. "If they need me I will show them they can count on me to do what I have to do on the court."