State of the Hogs: Steven Hill

It's not clear how much Steven Hill will play Saturday night in Arkansas' exhibition basketball game. An ankle injury sustained in practice Monday was well enough Thursday that it at least seemed probable that the 7-0, 248-pound sophomore would suit up against Louisiana State-Shreveport.

Fans may see Hill as the Hog most likely to be wearing a ponytail before season's end, but teammates view him as one of the top weapons in their new motion offense. Hill's hair requires a headband to stay clear of his face and it tends to move in crazy directions when he moves, but you won't hear any of his teammates talk badly of his brown locks. They know he will be the man who sets the screen that wipes them out in practice or gets them an open look for their jumper.

"He's probably the player on our team who has gotten into the motion the most and the best," said coach Stan Heath. "It's helped a lot of guys, but he's really picked it up and has set some great screens. Dan Hipsher has told me that Steven has picked it up faster in a few months than some of his post men have absorbed it in four seasons."

Of course, Hipsher is Heath's new assistant and the former head coach at Akron. Hipsher learned the motion game from Jim Crews when they were together at Evansville. Of course, Crews is a Bobby Knight protégé.

"If you talk about someone who has been THE guy in the motion during the modern era of basketball, that would be Knight," Heath said. "There are others who run it, but that's who you think of as running the screens, cuts and the motion stuff. What Dan has done is helped us become a better screening and cutting team and that's gotten our offense moving.

"The last couple of years we probably didn't have enough maturity to do some of these things. We were too young then, but this has helped us step up our offense."

Coach K runs some motion principles at Duke, but it's more with "an idea to drive and kick," according to Heath. Eddie Sutton was a motion coach early in his career, especially during his time at Arkansas. More and more, Sutton utilizes set plays in his offense instead of the motion.

But it was the motion that made inside scorers at Arkansas of forwards and guards like Kent Allison, Keith Peterson, Charles Balentine, Darryl Walker and Sidney Moncrief during the Sutton era.

The Hogs will look more like a Knight team, but perhaps more up-tempo. Heath stresses that the Hogs are enough improved as a rebounding team that they will play much faster than during his first three seasons as coach.

Hipsher has had a major influence in the way the Hogs will play this season. All you have to do is watch one practice to notice his strong presence on the practice floor. Visitors at Arkansas practices must sit above the railing in Bud Walton Arena, perhaps 30 rows above the floor. With a voice as loud as Nolan Richardson's, you probably don't need to come as close as the railing to hear every word from Hipsher during a scrimmage.

"We love it," Hill said. "He's loud. I'd say that's definitely his way and every player thinks it's good what he's done. You are right, he can point out something during a scrimmage and he doesn't need to stop play to do it."

Heath nods in agreement with his big center.

"Some coaches, they have to stop things and talk for five minutes," Heath said. "Dan can get it done in the flow and he is heard. He's got a very strong voice and he's very good at teaching on the run. We are getting a lot more done in practice."

The Hogs took advantage of a change in NCAA rules which allowed team segments during preseason practices as long as the combined time on the floor didn't go over two hours per week.

"We split ours up into four 30-minute sessions," Heath said. "We went 30 minutes twice a week with the full team and then went 30 minutes twice a week with individual work. We used a lot of it to install our motion offense and our defense as a team. It went very well and we were able to get a lot done in those two 30 minute sections with the team."

Hipsher has been pleased with the way the team has picked up the motion game. It's clear he thinks Hill has been the quickest to make the transition.

"He really understands the screening part," Hipsher said. "He knows how to get guys open. He can communicate the screens and he knows how to set himself at the proper angle so the cutter gets open. He sees the defense and is able to know what the proper angle needs to be for his screen. He also is a good passer and has a good overall feel for the motion game."

There is an added benefit. It's turned Hill into a scorer.

"When you set good screens, often the screener is the open man," Hipsher said. "The man covering the screener ends up having to help on the cutter and it leaves him as the dropoff man. It has allowed him to score a lot more than he scored last year."

Teammates are glad that the Hogs are finally going against someone else. They are tired of fighting through Hill's vicious screens.

"I think whoever is on my team likes it and the guys on the other team hate it," Hill smiles. "I seem to set some pretty solid screens. I try to do my fair share of setting screens and embrace setting screens. My job is not to be a star. My job is to give up my body for the team and I don't mind."

That makes him a star in the mind of his coaches and teammates.

"He's a big part of our offense," said Ronnie Brewer, the Hogs' main star. "Now what you see is other guys starting to emulate Steven. It's really helped our offense."

No longer are the Hogs going to be accused of standing still and waiting for the shot clock to run into single digits.

"The motion? It's given our offense a spark and Steven is our best screener," Jonathon "Pookie" Modica said. "Man, that's a big body out there and he loves it. He gives you the angle. It makes you want to move and cut and get to that big man. He gives you great angles and gets you open. Yeah, it's been a spark.

"I love the motion. It gives me and Ronnie a chance to move and cut, sometimes even posting up. Coach Hipsher has preached it and given us the theories. They make sense to us. We love it."

More than anything, they love Steven Hill's screens.

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