CHICAGO – As his senior teammates hoisted the Big Ten regular season trophy 11 days ago, guard Jordan Hill, with his outstretched right hand and his red championship hat, managed to get a few fingertips on the base.
He was grinning on the outside, but he was churning on the inside beneath his sport coat and dress shirt that he didn’t have a bigger piece of the action.
It’s the same feeling that has been a part of Hill’s DNA since the fall, angry and frustrated that he’s redshirting and not playing on game days. He hasn’t moped or complained. He’s simply channeled that anger to be Wisconsin’s primary offensive weapon on its scout team.
“My work ethic is not going to change, regardless of what my position is, whether I’m playing 30 minutes or not at all,” said Hill. “I am still really frustrated. I am not going to sugarcoat that. I hate not playing. I hate not being able to be on the floor, contribute, help our team win and be a part of the success in a more fulfilling type of way, but I’m doing what I can when I can.”
An aggressive competitor playing in high school, prep school and on the AAU circuit, a trait that caught Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s attention that facilitated the scholarship offer, Hill’s drive led to his desire to play the minute he stepped on campus.
After averaging only 2.3 minutes in 11 games last season as a true freshman, Hill sat out UW’s two exhibition games prior to this season before coming to his redshirt decision, recognizing that his playing time would have again been sparse with two senior guards – Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson – in the starting lineup, sophomore Zak Showalter coming off his redshirt year and classmate Bronson Koenig emerging as a top bench option last season.
That left Hill, the only scholarship point guard remaining, to battle daily on the scout team.
“He’s done a good job of always being in attack mode,” said assistant coach Lamont Paris. “That’s what scout team is for. All the guys do it, but particularly at the point guard spot, you’re typically the trigger man for most offenses. Sometimes you are more of a scorer, sometimes you are more of a facilitator, so he’s does a good job trying to figure out the role he’s playing that week and handles it.”
Hill’s role moving forward becomes critical to the success of Wisconsin. Not only are the Badgers (28-3) entering tournament season, starting with tomorrow morning’s matchup with No.9 seed Michigan (16-15) in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals at the United Center, Wisconsin will have multiple scouting reports to prepare for and little prep time to learn.
Serving as the opponent’s lead guard on the scout team, Hill has portrayed slashers, high volume shooters or a combination of the two, doing impersonations of Duke’s Tyus Jones, Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and Michigan State’s Travis Trice or a combination of both, like Penn State’s D.J. Newbill.
As much as he is forced to emulate others and play a different style every prep, Hill takes every scout opportunity to improve his shot, get better coming off screens, ball security and having proper footwork. Most importantly to him, his attitude has changed.
“The thing I have improved on from last year is not being so down on myself,” said Hill. “There were times last year where I would have a practice where I didn’t miss a shot and then have a practice where I didn’t make one. I’ve improved my consistency as far as the shots I choose to take and actually taking and making those shots. I think the volume of shots is OK, but I would rather have the coaches’ yell at me because I didn’t shoot a shot rather than come off a screen and throw up a shot just because. That’s not going to help me get better.”
Because his role during games is limited, Hill puts in long hours in the gym working on shooting and ball handling. He routinely makes a phone call to one of the team’s managers to help rebound for him when others have gone home for the night.
He also takes inspiration from others. Watching Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry do some ball handling drills on the Internet, Hill hit the practice floor the next day to try to incorporate some moves into his game.
“I definitely know I’ve made strides,” said Hill. “I would be hard pressed to believe everyone around me doesn’t see that I’ve greatly improved my shooting. I can still play great defense. I need to keep cutting down on my turnovers, but I think my decision making it greatly improved from last year. All these things are on the up and up. It’s only up for me.”
Paris said the Badgers didn’t entertain the notion of removing Hill’s redshirt following Jackson’s Jan.11 foot injury, saying the Badgers wanted to keep his year intact for 2015-16 when the staff has to permanently replace the minutes vacated by Gasser and Jackson. Showing in practice he can be a combo guard, Paris is confident Hill can compete for rotation minutes.
“He comes every single day and competes hard,” said Paris. “He tries to make guys better and beat the other guys. Instead of being disappointed about it or taking on the role as a mundane thing you have to do, he competes at it and tries to get better.”
Finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Hill expects to have an even bigger grip on the trophies he hopes to hoist in the future.
“I’ve never had any doubt in my mind and there never will be any doubt in my mind,” said Hill. “I am going to achieve some really big things. Whether people believe me or not, I am not really worried about what people say. I know my ability. I trust it. I trust my work ethic and the time I’ve put in will show off when it come game time next year. I know it’s a long ways away right now, but I know it’ll go by fast.”