Mark Hill took it on the chin in late January. Hill, the Harbor College basketball team's leading scorer, hit the canvas and took nine days to get up. Then he scored a moral knockout.
A flying elbow that caught Hill under the chin in an 85-79 loss to Mt. San Jacinto forced him to overreact. "We could have won the game if I just would have taken it," Hill says now, but instead he grabbed the neck of Jerry Robinson, San Jacinto's best defensive player. Fouls were called on both players.
Hill had been guarded closely by Robinson and both players exchanged taunts. Five plays before Robinson's elbow landed, Hill had elbowed Robinson and employed his own verbal defense. "Street talk," Hill calls it.
Robinson protested, then pounced. His flagrant elbow incensed Hill. "I was trying to convey to the players and myself that I'm not gonna let anyone do this to me," Hill said, so he went after Robinson. A fight ensued and it was then that Hill hit bottom.
Right after the fight, "he (Robinson) was saying, 'Come on, come on,' like he was challenging me," Hill recalls, "and I know that guy manipulated me to do whatever he wanted me to do. He was controlling me by telling me things, and I was listening."
Hill's temper tantrum required several efforts from coaches, teammates and security guards to get him out of the Harbor gym.
San Jacinto Coach John Chambers almost called time out just before the fight but deferred to the officials, who seemed more than ready to moderate the taunting episodes between Hill and Robinson.
"If I had taken a timeout, it (the altercation) probably would not have happened," Chambers says.
It may have happened partly because San Jacinto had planned to body check Hill as he cut through the middle on offense, according to Chambers. It happened after Hill, playing defense, hand-checked Robinson.
Weeks later, Hill, 20, has matured. "I've learned to control myself and my attitude," he says, "and now it's hard for me to lose my cool."
The 6-4 guard from Locke High, who can bury a three-pointer from almost any angle, will try to keep cool inside and heat up from outside when the Seahawks (18-9) play host to Golden West (15-15) in a Southern California regional first-round playoff Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Double figures should come easy. In three full games after the incident, Hill scored 30, 32 and 17 points. And last Friday at San Jacinto, faced with a verbal threat for more fisticuffs from a 6-6 San Jacinto football player and game-long harassment from San Jacinto faithful, Hill excited supporters and quieted detractors with 37 points and 11 rebounds, though Harbor lost.
Losing his cool, Hill says, is behind him for life.
He was knocked down twice in a 76-54 West L. A. loss to Harbor. "We (the Seahawks) knew what kind of foul it was in the West L. A. game, but Mark didn't react," said guard Bruce Turner, another Locke product. "We were ready to react, but he bounced right up and didn't say anything."
It was a welcomed sight. Since the Mt. San Jacinto incident, Hill's friends, family, coaches and teammates had been unsure about his ability to deflect the stress he feels from wanting to win more than anything.
Turner, however, says the Seahawks expect Hill to roll with the punches and elbows. "We haven't been watching him with the white-glove treatment that everyone expects," Turner said.
The Seahawks just seem happy to have their best shooter on the team, which fell in doubt two nights after Hill's fight in a 94-75 loss at College of the Desert.
Coach Ken Curry disciplined Hill for the fight by not starting him at Desert. Harbor fell behind and Hill chewed out his teammates for poor decisions on offense after he frustrated himself with five consecutive misses. Curry tried to tell Hill to stop bad-mouthing his teammates. Hill waved Curry off, cursed and soon found himself riding the pine.
Curry decided to kick Hill off the team. The end of his basketball career flashed in Hill's mind. He was ready to transfer. Instead, Hill missed one game and returned--nine days after the fight--with 30 points as Harbor edged visiting Marymount Palos Verdes College.
It may be that Hill is, and always will be, a walking firecracker. "I don't think he is gonna forget the incident," says Assistant Coach Jim White. "It looks like it'll be part of his life."
But counselors are helping him cope at school. Most of the campus seems to know about Hill and many students have stopped to ask him if he is OK.
The encouragement makes Hill smile. His performance makes recruiters happy.
A Division 1 scholarship is quite possible. Hill is elated that the future he's wanted for years is still foreseeable. "He knows how close he came to not even having a future," says Turner.
Hill has received a stack of college letters, and he's leaning toward Seton Hall (5-7), a South Orange, N. J. school wallowing in sixth place in the Big East Conference. "I'm in love with them because I think I can go there and play," he said.