CHAMPAIGN -- Illini guard Malcolm Hill isn't wasting a day in preparation for his senior season.
While most players around the country have been at home or on vacation since the end of the spring semester, the Big Ten's top returning scorer has made the gym at Ubben his home the last four weeks.
Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper got a chance to sit down with Hill this week.
Derek Piper: You don’t have to be here right now, technically. But you’re here working. What does that say about your work ethic in preparing for your senior season?
Malcolm Hill: I work hard. That’s what I do. I’ve always wanted to be the hardest worker in the country. I might not be the best player in the country, but I’ll be the best player I can possibly be. Being only two and a half hours away from home, it’s not like my mom can’t drive up and see me or I can’t go down there. I’m kind of accustomed to being up here and living by myself. It’s more like living professionally. I’m only taking one class, so I can really dedicate myself to basketball and working out every day.
DP: What have you been focusing on in the weight room? How has that been going?
MH: I’m building strength, of course. But I think the biggest thing with me is just my explosiveness. I’m fairly strong. I can always get stronger, which we’re doing. That’s not a concern. One thing we’re just focusing on is my explosiveness and athletic ability.
DP: With explosion, what types of things are you able to do to progress in that area?
MH: Just working on my lateral quickness. Doing short and quick explosive reps on squats and front squats, and stuff like.
DP: The guys are coming back here pretty soon. How excited are you for the summer workouts to officially start and for everybody to be back here in town?
MH: I’m real excited. Of course, I miss my teammates. They’re like my brothers to me. It’s going to be funny that first week or two because they’re gonna have to get used to things. The people that stayed here are used to it, so we’re kind of used to the heavy and intense training. It’s going to be new to everybody coming back.
DP: Wanted to ask you about Dee Brown. With him being added to the staff, what are your thoughts about that? What does that mean for your program having him around on a daily basis?
MH: It’s big-time because he’s seen what it takes to get to the level where we want to get at. He’s been to the Final Four. He was an All-American and a Player of the Year. He trash-talks me every now and then, and tries to get in my head. But he’s really positive. I want to use him to help me get out in the community more. I went to the Boys & Girls Club – he invited me to that. He’s helping me get better at talking in front of people and introducing myself – you know, because I’m a fairly shy person. He’s been really, really good to me and everybody here so far.
DP: You’re going into your last season here. You still want to get to that NCAA tournament. Just talk about your sense of urgency and your focus.
MH: I wouldn’t say it’s an urgency, because I don’t want to put too much stress or thought into it. Like I said, when it happens, it happens. That’s the goal right now. I’m just going in trying to get better every day. And as a team, we’ll just get better each practice and take it one game at a time when the season gets here.
DP: You’re going to have quite a few seniors. It’s a veteran-laden group, and one of those is Mike Thorne Jr. coming back. What did you think when you heard that news, and how big is that for you guys?
MH: I was more happy for him than I was for the team, honestly. Because I know how much he cared about us and how much he wanted to come back and help us win. Even when he was out, he was just so supportive of us and happy for us when good things we’re happening. So I’m happy that he gets the opportunity to play for the Illini one more time.
DP: We’ve seen pictures of him at Disney World. He looks like maybe the funniest dude to go to an amusement park with. Would you say that’s probably the case?
MH: Yeah. Oh yeah, definitely. You know he’s loud to begin with so I’m pretty sure he was the loudest one on every ride he went on. Probably scaring kids and grownups.
DP: Lastly, you’re going into this season regarded as one of the best players in the Big Ten. You’re a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. What does that mean to you? What does that say, and how are you going to accept that title?
MH: It doesn’t really mean too much to me, honestly. I don’t really care about all that stuff. Even last year when people were like ‘I thought you should have been first-team All-Big Ten’ and all that stuff, you know, the awards and accolades will happen. It’s nice that people think that about me. I know some of my friends think that’s really cool because they’ve been watching college basketball for a long time. I’m only going to get the high individual award I can possibly get with how well the team does winning-wise and how we do throughout the season. All I want to do is be one of the best teams in the country and one of the better teams in the Big Ten, and all the other accolades and stuff will just happen.
Shaq'ing the backboard
Hill shattered the backboard at Ubben with a thunderous slam over Memorial Day weekend. Hill talks about that in the video above. Illini head strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher gave his thoughts as well.
Derek Piper: So, Malcolm Shaq’ed the backboard. I’d say that’s a testament to your strength program. What would you say?
Adam Fletcher: Yeah, he’s done a great job all offseason long. He’s got the right mindset right now. We’re really focusing on his vertical jump, and his ability to apply force and power through the ground to get him up above the rim. To be able to do something like that is very impressive at a body weight that he’s at right now, which is about 225 pounds. His vertical has gone up about two-to-three inches already, and we’ll probably get another inch or two by the time August rolls around.
DP: He doesn’t have to be here right now, but he is. Just talk about his work ethic and what he’s putting in going into his final season here.
AF: He’s got a special work ethic. He’s one of those guys that wants to be here. He’s made the sacrifice to be here to train with me for these four weeks. Again, that was his decision, and I was really happy that he made that decision. There’s going to be a big jump for him over the summer since he’s already had those four weeks with me getting ready. That way he can continue to build upon that base that we’ve established and really take off going into the next level.
DP: You’re a big guy. Everybody likes to see you dunk before games. Have you ever broken a backboard yourself?
AF: (Laughs) No, I’ve never broken a backboard. But when I was in college – and my teammates used to mess with me – I ripped the rim off the backboard but the backboard didn’t break. So I’ve ripped the rim off the backboard, but I’ve never actually broke a backboard. So Malcolm has me one-upped there.
DP: Does it make you proud that he did that?
AF: Yeah, I was excited for him. I think he was excited. Again, it’s a testament to what we’re doing with his vertical and the work he’s been putting in.
DP: There’s some skeptics out there. Do you need to see the film or are you sold?
AF: Oh, I believe him. I was actually sitting in my office and I was getting some work done on my computer, and I heard some excitement out here on the court. I walked out and saw the glass on the floor and they pointed up at the backboard. It was pretty cool.