A Homecoming for Hill

The Braggin' Rights rivalry offers a unique atmosphere -- an environment familiar to freshman Malcolm Hill.

For one Illinois player, Saturday's Braggin' Rights matchup with Missouri is more than one of the most intense match-ups of the season.

The game, held in St. Louis' Scottrade Center, is a homecoming for freshman Malcolm Hill.

The Belleville, Ill. native was the 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch All-Metro Player of the Year and the all-time leading scorer at Belleville East High with 2,067 points.

Hill attended the game as a recruit last season and grew up watching the rivalry up close.

"It was just fun being around," he said. "The environment, there's nothing like it."

Hill says some of his best friends attend Missouri, and he'll have plenty of family and supporters cheering him on from the stands. It's a unique game and a different setting for Hill, but he says he'll try to keep his mindset as normal as possible.

"It's just the same basketball, just a different environment," he said. "That's how I'm going to treat it."

Illinois coach John Groce would like to see Hill as comfortable as possible Saturday. His last two games have seen his highest high and lowest low. At home versus Dartmouth, Hill logged a season-high 19 miunutes and posted a personal-best 10 points. On the road against Oregon, though, Hill failed to score and saw the court for less than five minutes of action.

Groce's explanation for the disparity was brief.

"Being more consistent, its really that simple," he said.

Known as a scorer with a slashing style in high school, Hill has taken his time to find his role in the Illinois offense. He's playing the 4 position, a spot he didn't man before the college level. He's averaging 3.8 points and shooting 29 percent from the field.

"(Hill is) trying to figure out how to be an aggressive scorer within the minutes that he's playing, yet not forcing things, taking care of the basketball per minute play, executing some things out of timeouts, some of those little detail things, you know, think are the next step for him," Groce said.

While the the offense is in a development stage, Hill has impressed his coach with his work, knowledge and effort defensively.

"I think he knows our defensive system as he should, but he knows it a lot better than when he started and he's probably a little more advanced than that of what I would have thought at this juncture, which a good thing," Groce said.

Advanced stats speak to the importance Hill plays. He touches the basketball on nearly 25 percent of the Illini possessions he's on the court for. That's third best on the team behind Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. For a player 11 games into his career, Saturday's trip back to familiar territory is a chance to show growth, both physically and mentally.

"Obviously he's talented, and he's got a lot of skill," Groce said. "We've gotta continue to get the most we can out of him. He needs to continue to play more consistently, I think is the biggest thing."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories