When the NBA season ends for George Hill, he usually heads down to Texas for the summer.
It’s an outlet for him. It’s comfortable to go back down where he played his first three NBA seasons with the Spurs. It’s warm, by the water, and away from the image of “Hometown Hero.” Down in Texas, he worked out with good friends, enjoyed spending time fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, and held events to give back to the community.
When Hill was traded to the Pacers in June 2011, Spurs fans were equally upset that he was going to another team as they were excited that he would play a larger role. But his time spent learning under sure-thing Hall of Famers Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili certainly aided to his growth process.
Hill, however, didn’t call Texas home this offseason.
After a disappointing 2013-14 season for Hill, perhaps his toughest as a pro, he trimmed his list of activities, stayed in Indiana, and locked in on what he needed to do.
“It’s been hell,”
Hill said candidly this month during a 15-minute conversation as kids at his basketball camp paused for lunch. “I’ve been kicked out of the gym a couple of times because I’ve been in there too much. Just staying in the gym, getting my body right to put on a little pounds, just getting my shot back right, working on ball handling, pick-and-rolls and things like that. Just trying to become a better player.”
Much of what he has worked on is movement shooting — off the bounce, finishing at the rims, and floaters. It’s mostly work to fine-tune and be more consistent rather than adding new elements.
“He’s doing it all,” said coach Frank Vogel. “He’s doing stuff in the morning with Yoga and some other stuff like that, and then he’s shooting for an hour and a half, and then he’s lifting. It’s a very, very extensive offseason routine, one that stacks up against any I’ve seen since I’ve been a coach. And usually when that happens, the guy comes out and has a great year.”
Too much last season, where his points per game average dropped nearly four points (14.2 to 10.3 per game), Hill was reserved to standing in the corner and being ready to shoot if the ball came his way. That ate at him, especially with negative comments were fired his way. With Lance Stephenson and Paul George, two dominant ball-handling players, those two were called upon to create leaving Hill off to the side. Hill quietly and without backlash did what was asked of him, even if it didn’t stretch his potential.
Vogel believes Hill was “unfairly criticized” for his play last season. It was unfair to an extent, but even Hill recognizes that he needs to be more consistent, and consistently be aggressive.
With his close friend and carpool mate, Paul George, suffering a broken leg, and Lance Stephenson signing with Charlotte, more will be asked and needed from Hill this upcoming season.
“I think he wants to be a strong point for this team,” Vogel said. “… I just think he wants to bring everything he possibly can to the table.”
Hill has sat down for hours with longtime assistant coach Dan Burke to study tape of opposing guards. They would break it down, see why the guards were successful and tools to defend them. (The team is finishing the installation of a new video software system, which should improve the picture quality, ease, and functionality. They are also switching to Apple Computers. That has Vogel excited.)
While others are playing in Pro Ams and getting in any games they can, Hill opts to do individual work. He is consistently at the Fieldhouse, as his Roy Hibbert, Chris Copeland, and rookie Shayne Whittington.
“Me and Roy have been working out together a little bit, just working on our chemistry,” Hill said.
Hill and Hibbert are planning to make it down to San Antonio for a couple days to workout in that environment and with whomever is down there, hopefully with their mentors, Parker and Duncan, respectively. Last summer, a group of them that also included Ian Mahinmi, a former Spur, trained for a few days in San Antonio.
One of Hill’s biggest takeaways from his time on Duncan’s team was his work ethic. Duncan was the first guy in, last one out everyday and worked harder than anyone. And he had a firm grasp of the basic fundamentals. Hill is now exhibiting some of those traits.
“The best summer that I’ve ever seen him had, in terms of work ethic,” Vogel said of Hill with a big grin. “He’s over the top right now with the hours that he’s putting in, the commitment, the movement shooting that he’s doing.
“He’s working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work, and that started the day after the season ended.”
George took a few vacations, and made his annual appearance in China with PEAK. But Indy is where he’s spent the majority of the summer.
“I just wanted a consistent gym to get into with consistent guys that can train me, and can rebound (for me),” Hill explained. “Knowing when I go to Texas – South Padre Island and San Antonio — sometimes you don’t have a rebounder or the gyms to get into. Just staying down here this whole summer so I know that I have the Pacers’ weight lifting coach, I have the Pacers’ interns to rebound, I have the coaches here knowing my game the whole year and knowing what I need to work on.”
Hill said his weight is fluctuating between 190 and 195 pounds. He hopes to weigh in at about 200 pounds and maintain it during the season. The Pacers are going to need Hill to help them keep moving forward and compete in hopes of making their fifth-straight playoff appearance.
Paul George Goes Down
While no timetable has been announced, Paul George is expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season.
Hill was leaving Benihana’s, one of his favorite restaurants, with teammate Donald Sloan when George sustained an open tibia-fibula fracture to his right leg during USA Basketball camp.
“I was in my car actually driving,” Hill recalled, “and my godfather called me and asked me, ‘Am I home.’ I was like, ‘Naw,’ and then he asked, ‘Did you hear what happened with Paul?’ I’m thinking it’s something crazy, somebody is making up a story or something like that. He was like, ‘He just went down,’ and I was like, ‘Stop playing, it ain’t funny.’
Hill still hasn’t watched video of George’s horrific injury, which moved the Pacers from an Eastern Conference contender to a fringe playoff team.
“I don’t want to see it,” he said with a squeamish face. “I don’t want to see a picture of it, I don’t look it up. I just hate it, not just because he’s a teammate and a little brother to me, but if it happened to anybody. I just hate when people get hurt like that.”
Soon after it happened, late Friday night, the players began to communicate to one another. Hill, part of a group text with assistants Nate McMillan and Popeye Jones, first informed Vogel, who was vacationing. They understood the severity of the injury and that they all must come together — even more so than before.
“At the end of the day, we know Paul and we know he’s going to come back stronger,” Hill said. “With the personality he’s got, he’s still going to be there with us every day. Maybe not physically on the court, but mentally. Just have to have a ‘Next man up,’ mentality. I think Paul became Paul when Danny [Granger] unfortunately went down, and Lance [Stephenson] became Lance when Danny went down again. Whoever (gets) that next opportunity has to take advantage and help this team win games.”
Since George returned home on August 5th, Hill, his neighbor on Geist, has been over frequently.
“Just trying to keep his spirits up high,” he said of his visits. “Not much I can do, but if I can just show him that I’m here and help him out with anything that he needs, if it’s running somewhere for him and grabbing something for him, just letting him know I’m that teammate he can count on.
“He tries to play video games, tries to fish a little bit, anything he can do to stay off his (leg) but also keep his mind away from it. Having company, family and friends over, eating nice meals together, things like that.
I followed up by asking if Hill expects George’s fishing skills to improve with so much time on his hands.
“Maybe video games, but not fishing,” he said positively. “He’s not that good of a fisherman. I’m still better. He can practice everyday and I’m still better.”
Kids Basketball Camp
Hill teaches campers the fundamentals of dribbling.
About 35 kids attended Hill’s one-day camp up at the Best Choice Fieldhouse in Fishers. What impressed me the most during my 90 minutes or so there was Hill’s involvement. At so many professional athletes’ camps that I’ve attended, the name player is seen and heard from very little. It’s an easy check to cash and looks good to the public.
Hill led a group of about 10 kids – none older than the 6th grade – on one court for about 45 minutes — working on everything from ball handling, moving on the dribble, pivoting, and layups. Then, he moved to the other court. About 10 minutes later, he returned to play a game of knockout before sitting down for a lunch break.
“It’s something that I always like doing,” Hill said of having his own basketball camp. “Just having fun with the kids, seeing their personalities and getting to know them. I’m also not making it just like a regular camp. Sometimes you have people doing camps where they come in for 20 or 30 minutes and show their face. When I always do my camps, I’m there the whole day. It’s not about money or any of that. It’s just about the experience, and the relationships you get by meeting the kids.”
Hill has mentioned previously that he never had the chance to go to basketball camps with any famous person or ‘touch’ them. Here’s his change to not only give back, but give these youngsters an opportunity to touch someone who has made it.
“They look up to guys on the Pacers,” said Hill. “To come here and spend a whole day with them, to put the smiles on their faces, it’s all worth it at the end of the day.”
New PEAK Shoe Coming Soon
I asked Hill about his brand, and whether he has added to it or even intends to expand his portfolio.
“I’m not a big guy at getting out like that as far as endorsements and stuff,” he said. “I try to stay mostly to myself.”
“I’m still (with) PEAK. I’m coming out with my new shoe this season. I got a new one coming out called ‘the G-Hill Monsters.’ It’s a pretty sleek shoe, nice color waves and things like that. We’re just trying to get them here for people to purchase if they want.”
Over our dozens of conversations just sitting in the locker room before games, Hill is determined to get his shoes in Indianapolis stores and easily available to fans. With Pacers Sports & Entertainment having a partnership with Finish Line, that seems like an obvious fit. He also would like to have his IUPUI jersey sold in the team’s gift shop.
The Broad Ripple product started an AAU program before his rookie season, back in 2008. Now, he’s up to eight teams within the George Hill Rising Stars program and he discussed the season that recently wrapped up.
“Seven out of eight finished top 10 [in the country,]” Hill said proudly. “I didn’t win a national title this year. We got beat in a couple championship games this year, but a couple of my teams placed third and fourth. It’s always good to even place in nationals, to be considered one of the top teams in the nation. We’re just trying to continue to build and keep working hard.”
Many of our conversations this past year were also about his interest in starting a bait and tackle shop. His passion for fishing and being on the water is obvious and well-known. In January or so, he thought he’d have a store up in Geist — because there weren’t any good ones in town and with all the homes and money, how could it not be a success — before the end of the season. He has since decided against it. “No, I gave up on that,” said Hill. “Too much work. I don’t have time to worry about bait and tackle right now.”
Asked whether the G2 Zone, his section with Paul George, would return for the 2014-15 season: “Hopefully. That’s the plan. We have to figure out Paul’s schedule now, but things may change a little bit depending on what Paul can do and all that stuff.”
Last summer, Hill traveled to Haiti with Kids Against Hunger, a program he firmly believes in. He’s trying to get back there once against before camp opens Sept. 30. “It’s supposed to be on,” Hill said. “We’re still trying to figure out our times and dates. I should soon know if I’m going or not.”