"Knock on wood -- Steven Hill has been phenomenal the last three days," said UA coach Stan Heath on Monday. "I'm not sure he wasn't the second or third best player on the team."
The Razorbacks were off limits to fans and media last week but not to officials, who worked a scrimmage on Saturday.
"The officials said, 'Coach, we don't even recognize (Hill),'" Heath said.
For one thing, Hill has gained 30 pounds and now goes about 250.
"That helps me go down low on offense," Hill said. "Hopefully I can score some points this year. Offensively I was just a non-factor last season."
The Hogs will be on display at 4:05 p.m. Saturday in the annual Red-White Game in Bud Walton Arena.
Hill averaged just 2.3 points and 2.3 rebounds last season, but Heath said Hill has shown a more assertive side in practices lately.
"I didn't expect it this season," Heath said. "Maybe next season."
Hill proved himself defensively last season, blocking a team-high 54 shots while averaging just 15.7 minutes per game. But he attempted just 57 shots in 30 games.
"Last year my mom had just passed away and I had a hard time," Hill said. "I struggled."
Penny Hill was just 42 years old.
"We were real close, like anybody would be with his mother," Hill said. "This year I'm playing the season for her."
Because he weighed just 220 as a freshman, Hill said his body wore down by season's end.
"I feel rejuvenated now," he said. "A lot of it is knowing what to expect, and taking care of my body. I'm real positive about this year and our team."
Also feeling much better these days is freshman point guard Sean McCurdy, who missed his senior season at St. Anthony (N.J.) High with a broken bone in his right foot.
"I don't know whether it was from missing the whole year or what, but my body was sore in preseason sometimes," McCurdy said Monday. "But I feel great now."
Heath said McCurdy had impressed him with his ability to cover opposing guards in practice.
"Sean is a lot better defensive player than I imagined," Heath said. "He stays in front of his man. He's been playing Gary Ervin or Eric Ferguson toe to toe."
Heath still hopes that McCurdy and senior Dontell Jefferson can handle the point guard duties this season, freeing Ferguson and preseason SEC Player of the Year Ronnie Brewer for the 2 and 3 spots.
"That's not written in stone, but it's my preference," Heath said.
It's fine with Brewer, who said, "I think I've got the skills to help the team either way. We're solid at point guard. Dontell is looking good, and Gary Ervin has been pushing Sean to develop into a good point guard."
Hill said McCurdy is even adding to the team's leadership as a freshman.
"He knows what it's like to run a team," Hill said. "The way he plays, he already knows what he's doing. We have a lot more leadership this year and that's something we've really been missing."
McCurdy, while acknowledging the competition for playing time, said, "We're all one family and we stick by each other's side. Everybody up here can play, and the competition is just going to make everybody better."
Heath called this Saturday a "great opportunity" for fans to get to know the players, beginning with an autograph session from 1 to 3 p.m.
"We'll have three guys per table around the concourse," Heath said.
The Hogs have been playing at a faster pace in preseason, but also preparing for teams that like to work the ball around for 25 seconds and break a defense down.
"We want our players to become instinctual," Heath said. "The older guys are helping Sean learn what we do and why we do it. Vincent Hunter and Charles Thomas are good pressure-relief players. They can take pressure off the point guard against a press."
Heath said the starter at point guard may change by Christmas or the start of the SEC season.
"Ronnie can always take the reins," he added. "If the other team is playing a zone or sagging, we need to penetrate and hit the open shot."
Chemistry will be a big item, Heath said.
"Get the ball to the right guy at the right time," Heath said, summing up. "Point guard really hasn't been solidified since I've been here."
Heath said Hill and 6-10 sophomore Darian Townes could play in the same lineup at times, and Hunter could even join them as a 6-10 small forward.
Brewer and senior guard Jonathon Modica will accompany Heath to Birmingham, Ala., for SEC Media Days activities on Wednesday.
Hill Throws Weight Around In UA Practice
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