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Hillman: No Star but Happy Hoosier

March 26, 1987|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

Joe Hillman has attempted only 53 shots this season while playing guard for the University of Indiana basketball team. In high school, when he averaged 41 points a game as a senior at Hoover High, he took that many in a week.

He's not complaining though.

Hillman chose Indiana over other universities, believing the road to the Final Four ran through Bloomington. He was right. This weekend, Hillman and the Hoosiers will play in New Orleans. "This is what I came to Indiana for--to play for a national championship," Hillman said. "When I was a kid I used to catch all the tournament games on TV, but it was nothing like the feeling I got last week."

Last Sunday, Hillman played just 53 seconds in the Hoosiers' 77-76 win over LSU in the championship game of the NCAA Midwest Regional. But Hillman's basket and subsequent free throw, which completed a three-point play with 3:45 left in the game, helped send the Hoosiers to New Orleans.

Hillman will be coming off the bench again Saturday when Indiana plays the Runnin' Rebels of Nevada-Las Vegas in the semifinals. If the Hoosiers win, they'll play for the national championship Monday against the winner of the Syracuse-Providence semifinal.

"I'm the same player I've always been," Hillman said by phone from Bloomington. "I just do what I have to do."

The 6-3, 180-pound Hillman was the first player recruited by Indiana Coach Bob Knight from west of the Mississippi River.

He averaged 1.5 points a game in his freshmen season, redshirted last season and has averaged 12 minutes, 2.4 points and 1.9 assists for the Hoosiers (28-4) this season.

Hillman's scoring ability has taken a back seat to his superior leadership abilities and court sense.

"He's really conscious of me when he's on the floor," said Steve Alford, Indiana's All-American guard. "The fact that he's played with me more than some of the other guys helps because he can kind of read my mind."

The telepathy apparently works both ways.

On Saturday, it was Alford who dished the ball off to Hillman, who was filling the lane on the left side on a fast break. Hillman banked a six-foot shot in off the glass while being fouled by LSU's Bernard Woodside. Hillman had to wait until LSU Coach Dale Brown replaced Woodside, who had fouled out, then calmly sank the free throw to complete the three-point play.

"Hillman made the play of the game," Knight told reporters. "He took the ball in over a big kid, and then had to wait while they brought another player in and still knocked in the free throw."

Hillman grabbed the national spotlight with his performance against LSU, but his contributions off the bench have been consistent all season.

In the regional semifinal against Duke, Hillman entered the game with 10:35 left in the first half and Indiana trailing, 27-21. When the half ended, Hillman had two rebounds and three assists and Indiana had a 41-39 lead.

Hillman, a business major who carries a 3.38 grade-point average, was named second-team All-Academic Big Ten this season.

When he gets back from New Orleans, he'll play for the Indiana baseball team. Last season he played right field and, in 37 games, batted .327 with 16 runs batted in.

For now, though, all his thoughts are on New Orleans and a national championship.

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