He was that skinny. He was also shy, unassuming, and unlike other players who have made their way through the Providence basketball program over the past 18 years, he appeared unqualified to play at the high major level of college basketball.
But Tim Welsh and his coaching staff took a chance on this slender young man from Kinston, NC – thanks to the initial tip from Jerry Welsh, Tim's father, who saw Herb at a holiday tournament during his senior year of high school. They all sensed there was just something about him that led them to believe he could work his way into becoming a serviceable player in the Big East.
Tuesday in New York, some of that work paid off when Hill was named the Big East's Most Improved Player for 2006-07. Note the use of the word "some," because Hill says there's more work to do.
"I think we have to defend well as a team, but I think we've got a shot here in New York like anyone else does," Hill said. "As long as we defend, we'll be right there.
"You know, during my freshman year I just kept my head up and kept working hard," Hill continued. "I never stopped working. I took the first two years of my career to get better and learn from the other guys on the team. I'm glad I did that."
At 6-10 and 240 pounds, Hill's transformation from skinny teenager into an NBA prospect has been nothing short of amazing over his five years on campus. While he's grown about two inches in height during this time, the most noticeable growth has come from the muscle he has added to his frame – muscle he has comfortably added to increase his weight by almost 50 pounds. And not only has there been an increase in strength, but also an increase in quickness, if not speed, as Hill has learned to ply his trade in the post. Still, Hill says there is work to do in this department, before he's ready to try his game out at the next level.
"Ryan (Gomes) says all the time about how you have to keep working, keep working to make yourself better. Ryan knows I made first team all Big East, and he's happy for me, but he also said not to stop here."
"When we recruited Ryan, you saw something, that he had a chance to be a special player," said Friar head coach Tim Welsh. "With Herb, he jumped out of nowhere. Ryan's improvement was special, but Herb's was even beyond that. You're always hoping a player can work to that level, but his progress has been unbelievable.
"Herb's very well liked by his teammates," Welsh added. "What he's lacked, has been self-confidence. We've tried to instill that in him, and his growth has been something to see."
"This is why they (PC) recruited Herbert Hill," Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "Herbert Hill became the player he is because he worked hard at it, and he's on the brink of being a truly special player."
The gradual increase in his numbers over his five year career at Providence isn't overly impressive, until you reach this season. Call it a "late blooming:"
2001-02 Senior HS season 14/9/6 blocks
2002-03 Redshirt season at PC
2003-04 11 games played 1.0/0.7 50% FG 62.5% FT
2004-05 30 games played 4.8/3.4 57.6% 37.5%
2005-06 27 games played 9.0/4.8 58.6 55.7
2006-07 29 games played 18.0/8.6 64.0 60.2
Hill's numbers have just about doubled from his junior to senior seasons, and when you include three blocked shots per game, it's not difficult to see how he gets named "Most Improved" in the Big East. Hill also became just the third player in PC's Big East history to lead the league in scoring (w/Eric Murdock and Ryan Gomes) at 19.9 points per game during league play. But this season doesn't tell the entire story of Hill's growth.
When he first arrived at PC, the word "raw" comes to mind, but even then, "raw" isn't quite an apt description. "I've been following Providence College basketball since the 1950's, and without a doubt, Herb's improvement over his entire career is the most dramatic of any player I've seen – without a doubt," said Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal. "Without question. Bar none."
Hill's emotional growth, as well as his physical growth, has been significant – as a student, as a leader, and as a teammate. He's still quiet by nature, but not as shy as he once was. Hill is very well spoken, knows how to conduct himself in public interviews, on the radio and television, and is well-respected by his teammates for his work ethic.
"My mother (Iris Brown) and brother were very big in my development growing up," Hill said. "I used to call home crying all the time in my first year, and my mom always told me to stick it out. She said it was good for me. She has inspired me to go on and try to be the best I can be."
Often in this dog-eat-dog world of college basketball, nice guys don't win. By all accounts, Hill is a nice guy, to everyone he meets. And regardless of whether the Friars have success on the floor or not, Hill is a nice guy that has already won.
Herbert Hill – Big East Most Improved Player
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