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German Import

Hill, who remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall, hopes to rise on Chaminade basketball team.

July 09, 1999|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST HILLS — Do they offer German classes at Chaminade High?

If so, Tito Hill won't be taking any. He'll be teaching them.

Hill, who will be a junior guard on the boys' basketball team, is an international man of history.

Having spent most of his life in Germany, he remembers the bulldozing of the Berlin Wall, though he was seven at the time. He remembers the rural town where he grew up, Wadersloh, though he'd like to forget the weather there--"Like Seattle," he said.

And he remembers his native tongue, which he still speaks with his mother, Lemlem.

He sums up his years in Germany with a trite, "It's a whole different experience," but his time there made him ready for what happened in 1996, when he left one continent for another.

*

Tito Hill is smart and smooth, a deadly combination on the basketball court.

He can shoot the three. He can drive. He can handle the ball.

It wasn't that surprising when he was approached in the seventh grade by an American coach at a basketball camp in Germany.

The coach, who was with a girls' all-star team, recognized Hill's talent and recommended something. Not so much that Hill needed work on his foot speed or his jumper. Rather, he needed to take his game to America, the land of the roundball.

It wasn't a decision made overnight. But it was made. Hill would be coming to America, to St. Andrews boarding school in Boca Raton, Fla.

His mother was comfortable with her son moving to Florida, the site of several family vacations, but Hill was not entirely happy. He missed Germany. And his mother.

"I was a very active business person in Germany," she said. "But I said, 'If you want me to [move], I will do anything in my power to do it for you.' "

Consider it done. Mother moved to Boca Raton and was reunited with son, less than a year after he left Germany.

But the trail to Chaminade had only just begun.

As Hill wound his way through St. Andrew's, playing junior varsity as a freshman and starting on the varsity as a sophomore, he became dissatisfied.

"The school was not very good at basketball," he said. "And the education was not that great. It just didn't feel like the right situation for me."

The opportunity for change presented itself when his step-father, Nicholas, whom Lemlem met and married in Florida, accepted a job with a consulting company in Los Angeles.

The search began for a school with a more agreeable balance of basketball and academics.

"Looking around at schools, we got on the Internet," Nicholas said. "I'm a stickler for education. . . That's the most important thing."

Basketball, though, played a part in the decision.

"I wasn't looking so much at the team, but at the coach," Nicholas said. "Was he going to refine Tito and help him with his game. Was he going to give him a toolbox to use in college?"

After meeting with coaches and actually scouting some high school games, Nicholas, Lemlem and Tito settled on Chaminade.

*

Hill's outside shot has been compared to Justin Beach, a former Chaminade guard who had a feathery three-point touch.

The 6-foot-4 Hill also drives efficiently and effectively. And he yearns to learn.

"He's a coach's dream," Coach Jeff Young of Chaminade said. "You have to kick him out of the gym. He's always looking to improve his shot."

The transition from St. Andrew's, 9-11 last season in a lower division, to Chaminade, home of two consecutive Southern Section championships, has not been simple for Hill.

A new offense with new terminology. Not to mention the new surroundings--he moved to Southern California a month ago.

"He's hard on himself as an athlete and a person," Young said. "He's adapting, with a lot of the frustrations. But he's contributing."

Other coaches have noticed his potential.

"They use him as a pretty big part of their offense," said Coach Tim Bednar of Moorpark, whose team lost to Chaminade in a summer-league game on Monday. "They set a lot of pick-and-rolls for him at the top [of the lane] and he either shoots or drives. It's obvious they want him to score."

Somehow, you think he's going to succeed.

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