The two top in-state prospects in the Class of 2013 not named Jabari Parker were the headliners of John Groce's first recruiting class. As freshmen, both earned their first career starts in the same game, a Feb. 6, 2014 win at Penn State that ended an Illini eight-game losing streak and turned around what looked like a lost season. As sophomores, both became double-digit scorers (Hill 14.4 ppg and Nunn 11.1 ppg). As juniors, the two combined to average 33.6 points per game, second among Big Ten pairs behind only Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok.
But Hill and Nunn have never played in an NCAA Tournament game. Now, they'll never get a chance to do that together after Illinois dismissed Nunn in May.
Nunn, who plead guilty to misdemeanor assault and admitted he struck a woman, has since transferred to Oakland, a Division I program in Rochester, Mich., which plays in the Horizon League.
"It sucked," Hill said Friday during an in-studio appearance on ESPN Radio 93.5's Tay and J Show. "It hurt. I feel bad for him, especially because I've been a Kendrick Nunn fan since high school before he even knew who I was because of him and Jabari (Parker playing together at Simeon). But I think he's going to do really good at Oakland because he works hard. He has the ability to perform because they lost Kay Felder, a really good scorer, so he can be that guy for the next year to replace him."
Hill, a Second-Team All Big Ten selection last season and a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate this season, has excelled in an unstable environment. He was the only Illini starter last season who didn't miss a game due to injury, two of his teammates were dismissed (Nunn and Darius Paul) and two others were arrested (Leron Black plead guilty to misdemeanor assault, while domestic battery charges against Jaylon Tate were dropped).
But the Illini -- who finally received some good news this spring with the returns of sixth-year seniors Mike Thorne Jr. and Tracy Abrams -- have not splintered, Hill said
"You just have to stay positive," Hill said. "Because it's already bad enough with the outside population negative about it. If you're going to be negative about it on the inside, then that's just going to break us apart. I think we just did a good job of being positive and keeping our heads up about it. I always say that for every negative there's a positive in something."
What has Hill -- who is on pace to finish among the top-5 career scorers in Illini history -- learned that he can use in his final season?
"Just being a better leader on the court and off the court," Hill said. "It's easier said than done, but I think I've improved in a lot of those areas, especially because leading probably wasn't natural for me because I'm naturally a quiet person. I'm a quiet, shy person. But I think I've gotten more open from my time being here. Like if I was a freshman and you asked me to do this radio show when I was a freshman, there's no way I'd be able to do it, at all. But I think throughout the summer so, I think we've all done a good job. Because sometimes being a good leader is being a good follower. I don't want to take advantage of being in the position of being a leader. I like to listen to other peoples' output. I think it's important for all of us to have some type of leadership characteristic."
Listen to the entire 35-minute interview with Hill below.