Hill Embracing Expanded Role

When the 2008-09 season began, junior guard P.J. Hill looked destined for a spot at the end of Ohio State head coach Thad Matta's bench. Now, with Anthony Crater out of the picture, Hill shined in his first extended playing time of the season and is hoping to be a bigger contributor for the Buckeyes the rest of the way.

When his name was called, P.J. Hill was ready.

The junior point guard in his second season playing for Ohio State had seen limited action during the 2007-08 season and hoped to see an increase in playing time this season. But with the arrival of fellow junior college transfer Jeremie Simmons and freshman Anthony Crater, the writing was on the wall that Hill would be relegated to mop-up duty at best. Happy to be a part of the team, Hill accepted his role and continued working to improve his game.

Ten games into the season, though, things took a drastic change when Crater abruptly quit the team and promoting Hill to the second-string point guard in the process. In his first extended action of the season Dec. 31, the 6-1, 170-pound Hill nearly saw as many minutes of action (12) as he had in four previous appearances (15).

He did not score, but he provided a spark that helped the Buckeyes stave off an upset bid by visiting Iowa. Offensively, Hill finished with four of OSU's 12 assists but had his biggest impact on the defensive end.

There, Hill had one rebound, doled out one massive block, took a key charge with the Buckeyes clinging to a 67-65 lead in the final moments and was frequently on the floor chasing after loose balls. Afterward, he received a bear hug from head coach Thad Matta for his performance.

The game was just an example of what Hill brings to practice on a daily basis, sophomore guard Jon Diebler said.

"Honestly, that's how P.J. is," he said after the game. "P.J. comes in every single day in practice and works hard. How he played on the court tonight is how he works every single day in practice. I'm so happy for him right now."

Later, Matta echoed that statement, saying the he has had faith all along in Hill's ability to be a contributor for the Buckeyes. The dual-threat combination of Simmons and Crater was what was holding Hill back, the coach said.

There was no discussion about how Hill's role would grow in Crater's absence. Although the knowledge hung in the air, Hill said it was not until shortly before tip-off against the Hawkeyes that Matta acknowledged it.

"Tight before the game coach looked at me and said, ‘You're going to play. You ready?' " Hill said. "I said, ‘I'm ready coach. I'm ready.' That was all that was said."

Matta credited Hill's overall understanding of the game, pointing out that he knows each position in the offense on both sides of the court. While Crater was still on the roster, Hill spent time at both shooting guard and small forward during practice to help fill out the rotations at those spots and to avoid taking reps away from Simmons and Crater.

"It's hard to be in a leadership role when you're really not playing, but I play so hard in practice and I go so hard in everything else (that) I'm just a natural leader so the guys still look to me for leadership," Hill said. "I do know what I'm talking about even though my opportunity might not always be there. I am knowledgeable about the stuff because I've been here for a year."

Now he's obviously back at point guard and serving as the primary understudy to Simmons. Last year, he filled the same role behind all-Big Ten guard Jamar Butler.

Despite the lack of playing time, Hill said he has been tutoring Simmons – a natural shooting guard – in the art of handling the point.

"I've definitely been there to give him the key points," Hill said. "He looks at me like, ‘What do I do on this play?' or ‘What should I do in this situation?' Sitting behind Jamar, I really learned a lot about the system and about the game of basketball at this level. I definitely gave him pointers that Jamar gave me. "

Now that Hill is getting a chance to show his own wares, those lessons will likely carry a little more weight.

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