A question that has gone through every Stanford fan's mind the past month-plus is how Stanford can replace the loss of all-world Josh Childress in the Cardinal lineup. His length, quickness and explosiveness are unmatched on the roster, if not in the conference... and perhaps the nation. The good news is that the chemistry, hustle, execution and coaching of the remainder of the Stanford lineup have more than held their own while Childress has been out of action. In fact, they have pushed to a 9-0 record and #5 national ranking...
But this question is one that Stanford fans will be asking themselves again in a few months or a year's time. The 6'8" junior won't be on The Farm forever, and the search is in high gear for Mike Montgomery to find the seeming unattainable replacement for Childress in the Class of 2005.
Would you believe Montgomery has already found that man - "the next Josh Childress"?
"I talk with Coach [Tony] Fuller a lot," Deer Valley (Glendale, AZ) super junior Lawrence Hill begins. "My relationship with him is important - my fit with him. He's easy talking to. Coach Fuller says he likes my offense and how I'd fit in there at Stanford. He think I can be like Josh Childress. There is no limit to how I play, he says, and it depends on how I develop next spring and summer. I could be a '3' or a '4' in college, or maybe even a '5' if I get taller. I'm 6'7" in bare feet right now, 6'8" with shoes, but I think I have another [growth] spurt left in me."
To look at Hill, you might think you are looking at a mirror image of Childress - physically. He has a long and lean build but he is a bouncy player who is light on his feet and can make a breadth of plays in the paint, as well as on the perimeter. When I watched Hill play this summer in Las Vegas as the Adidas Big Time with his AAU squad, the Arizona Magic, he was the tallest player on this team and played a role in the low post on both offense and defense, but that is not his natural home. Hill is a mobile player who likes to get up and down the floor, and a player who likes to move around on offense and make himself a central figure in both the halfcourt and transition games.
"There's a lot more running than last year," the 6'8" junior combo forward describes. "I'm a lot more focused than my sophomore year, and I feel right now like I can do just about anything because of preparation and practice. Last year I would just shoot, or maybe post up and shoot. Now I'm thinking a lot more and understand so much more about the game. And this year I want to be the main guy on the court - I want to touch the ball every time down the floor."
Hill is getting his wish, finding himself as the central figure in a very successful 12-1 Deer Valley team. He is averaging 16 points 11 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game, though some Phoenix area basketball pundits have wondered how such a talented player is not putting up bigger scoring numbers.
"Lawrence could score more if he wanted to," answers father Larry Hill. "But he can do a lot more things than just try and score every time he touches the ball. Lawrence draws double and triple-teams, and he wants to make his teammates better. He's playing well within himself and maintaining his leadership position on a young team."
His all-around efforts were evident the past few days as he led his Deer Valley team to the championship of the Cactus Shadows Tournament (plus an individual MVP award), scoring 15 points plus 10 rebounds in the Wednesday. Hill scored 19 points against Pinnacle in the Tuesday semifinal, after an easy 20 points and 13 points in two opening games Monday. The finale was the most thrilling and hotly contested game, and it came against an Arizona school familiar to Stanford fans.
Hill matched up Wednesday against Page High School, which of course is the home to Cardinal sophomore Matt Haryasz. It was a Haraysz deja vu in fact as the Sand Devils put forth a lanky but skilled 6'9" big man in Ryan Anderson (son of Page's head coach). While Page is a remote school hours away from Deer Valley, the schools have met previously in Hill's high school career. When Matt Haryasz was a senior and Lawrence Hill was a freshman, the two did battle in 2001 in a holiday tournament. Haryasz went off for 39 points, which was a par performance in his stellar senior season, but the upstart freshman 14-year old held his own and earned statewide respect with his 18 points, including four in the fourth quarter mano y mano against the big senior.
When circumstances call upon the balleyhooed junior to score, though, he can most certainly answer the bell. The game of the year for Hill and his Deer Valley team came when he faced off against the reigning Arizona state Player of the Year Ty Morrison and Trevor Browne High School three weeks ago. The showdown posited the best Cactus State talents in the 2004, 2005 and 2006 classes all on one floor, and without question Hill came away as the star performer. He put up a season-high 30 points plus 16 rebounds and four blocks in the 89-74 win. Hill was constantly attacking and attacked on the offensive end, sending him to the charity stripe 21 times, and he came through with 17 makes.
Perhaps more impressive than his offensive output, though, was what Hill did on defense. His mindset coming into the game was that he wanted to do everything possible to shut down Morrison, the biggest senior name in all the state. That defensive intensity succeeded, holding the '04 star to just 12 points, and that had to please Stanford assistant coach Tony Fuller in the stands as much as anything. Morrison after all has been averaging just shy of a triple-double this year.
The Cardinal are certainly not alone in their pursuit of "The Law." Also in the stands on that night were UCLA's Donny Daniels, Iowa State's Damon Archibald, Arizona's Josh Pastner and a pair of Arizona State coaches.
The often stated pair of leaders for Hill's services have been Stanford and Arizona, with ASU a close third, but according to his father, there has been a recent realization that one school may best fit his game and future.
"We had a talk about this just last weekend," reveals Larry Hill. "Lawrence said, 'Dad, I feel like the way I am playing, I probably fit in best with Stanford. They run plays; they get the ball to the open person; and they play defense. You watch Arizona and it takes an individual player's spectacular athletic play to get them a way to score. And when you see Channing Frye dominating, they might not let him touch the ball the next four minutes.' I told Lawrence that was a very astute and mature set of observations, and I had to agree."
If his performances in the classroom are even indirect evidence, then Lawrence Hill looks like he wants to do his part for Stanford. He came into his junior year with a 4.38 GPA, and he says he has pulled all A's in the recently concluded fall semester. With a 1030 PSAT in hand, the younger Hill is just three weeks away from his date with the SAT on January 24. His father has armed him with CD-ROM preparation software, and the son is hitting the computer hard for at least one hour each night until that fateful Saturday.
Though "The Law" might be the best player in the state the last several years, he sits today with nary an offer from his pursuers. The Wildcats and Sun Devils have talked a big game about how much they think of Hill, but their absence of offers is conspicuous. Stanford is recruiting Hill like crazy and my best information is that they want him in the worst way, though Mike Montgomery does not offer any recruits prior to their admissions acceptance. With that understanding, Lawrence Hill is anxious to get a strong SAT score posted that can match his transcript, and then push his recruiting relationship with the Cardinal all the way.
"Lawrence frankly is pissed off that he doesn't have offers right now," Larry Hill admits. "And that is just fueling him to work harder and dominate even more."
Dave Telep and TheInsiders have been incredibly impressed with the young junior, even though he is a year young for his class, and have assigned him a four-star rating as one of the top small forwards in the country. Tracy Pierson and Greg Hicks of PrepWestHoops fame have slotted Hill as a power forward and tabbed him with the #2 ranking out West in the 2005 class at that position.
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