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HILL a THRILL for PISTONS : Pro basketball: Detroit's No. 1 draft choice followed father Calvin Hill's work ethic and went on to become a three-time All-American at Duke.

October 23, 1994|HARRY ATKINS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The late-summer sun burns down on a father and son playing tennis behind a high school. They can hear the crash of pads from football practice across the way. Two-a-days.

"This time next year, you'll be over there, going through that with them," the father says to his son, a tall eighth grader.

"Not me," the son replies. "I'll be over there, in the air-conditioned gym, shooting baskets."

Calvin Hill smiles as he tells the story. It was at that exact moment, he says, that he knew he had a very wise son. Grant Hill has that effect on people.

The father was an NFL running back for the Dallas Cowboys. The son saw what a terrible price Calvin Hill paid with his body. He knew even then that football wasn't for him.

But Grant Hill did like the way his father went about his work. Following that example, he became a three-time basketball All-American at Duke, leading the Blue Devils to a pair of NCAA championships, and the Detroit Pistons made him the third overall pick in this year's NBA draft.

"I've learned a lot from him," Grant Hill says of his father. "It's not always easy being the son of a professional athlete. But it's been very good. I've enjoyed it."

When the Dallas Mavericks took Jason Kidd with the No. 2 pick in the draft, the way was cleared for the Pistons to select Hill. Pistons general manager Billy McKinney wept.

McKinney was reminded of that a few months later, after signing Hill to an eight-year contract worth $45 million.

"If you had to write the check to pay this young man, you'd cry, too," McKinney says. "But he's everything we hoped he would be. Grant Hill is the whole package."

At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Hill is a superb athlete who has mastered all the fundamental skills and should blossom in the wide-open NBA game. He has an explosive first step and the intelligence to play solid defense.

"This man is the truth," veteran Joe Dumars says. "He explodes to the basket, and he has control. He has incredible control in his ability to get to the basket. There's only one other guy I've seen do that."

Michael Jordan?

Dumars face breaks into a smile.

From the opening tip of the Pistons' first exhibition game, Dumars spotted Hill flying in on the right wing. He lofted an alley-oop pass over the rim and Hill soared high and slammed the ball down through the hoop.

The game was just four seconds old, yet Hill was already at ease as a professional basketball player.

"After I saw the first move he made, I knew he was for real," Dumars says. "A lot of nights, he will be a flat-out go-to guy. You don't see many guys his size with that kind of ability."

Which is not to say Hill doesn't have a lot to learn. The next night, in another exhibition game, Charles Barkley had 26 points and 11 rebounds as the Phoenix Suns routed the Pistons 142-121. The rookie took notice.

"I learned something about losing," Hill says. "It's no fun at all. That's the first time I've ever lost a game by more than double figures.

"I expected we'd compete with them and have a chance of winning. I never expected we'd get blown out like that."

Rather than get dejected as some rookies might, Hill turns each practice and each exhibition game into a learning experience. If the lane is open, he drives. If it's not, he stops and shoots a jumper. He takes what's there.

Yet what coach Don Chaney likes most are Hill's defense and ability to move without the ball. Both are rare in rookies.

"He's a hell of a defender," Chaney says. "He has great anticipation. He makes it happen. I think his defense is so much ahead of the rest of his game."

The thing that everybody seems to like about Grant Hill is the quality that made him a favorite tennis partner of his father.

"He's unique in his own way," Dumars says. "If he was the No. 3 draft pick and a jerk, I would not be saying these things."

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