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June 28, 2013

Hill's road less traveled - lately - to NBA's 1st round



If you had Solomon Hill going No. 23 in Thursday's NBA draft, please raise your hand. A hand should be up; maybe two. Maybe.

Hill was one of those names all over projection boards in the months leading up to the draft. From late first round to completely out of the running, Hill's professional destination was anyone's guess. Amateur and expert prognosticators alike whiffed.

An unexpected selection suits the unconventional path Hill followed from Los Angeles Fairfax High School, to Arizona and now the Indiana Pacers.

The 19-year age limit instituted following the 2005 draft had the opposite effect of its intention. In the eight years since, four-year college players have become increasingly rare sights during the first round. Prospects are leaving earlier and with more regularity.

"It was satisfying," Hill told GOAZCATS.com of the first-round selection after spending four years in college.

"You want to be successful in college before you just think about the pros."

Among them was Hill's one-season teammate, Grant Jerrett. Jerrett remained available after Hill's name was called, going 17 selections later to the Portland Trail Blazers before being dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder for cash considerations.

But that's hardly the norm. Other recent UA first round draft picks were Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Hill and Derrick Williams. None were four-year players. The last four-year Wildcat to go in the first round was Channing Frye--in 2005.

Hill is certainly an exception, but that's not by accident. The swing man was a player who adapted to whatever role he was asked to fill in his time at UA. He spent his first two years developing his game and serving as a role player.

"Each year that Solomon played he improved," head coach Sean Miller wrote in a congratulatory tweet.

Hill's development as a role player is no small feat, considering the growing urgency blue chip prospects have to prove their NBA mettle within their first two seasons. It's particularly noteworthy given Hill was the most ballyhooed of Miller's first signing class in 2009.

He was a four-star recruit at Fairfax, ranked third at small forward and No. 27 nationally. For such a heralded newcomer to accept a role while honing his skill set bodes well for his NBA career.

In Indiana, he joins a franchise that came within one win from the NBA Finals. The Pacers won with a style that emphasized team results over individual stardom. Indiana is the right fit for Hill, and so much of a young basketball player's success depends on fit.

To wit, past Wildcat draftees did not find their NBA niche until landing in the right situation. Bayless became a vital cog in the Memphis Grizzlies' Western Conference Finals run despite floundering at Portland early in his career. Jordan Hill struggled to get playing time in New York, but has been a beloved spark plug off the Los Angeles Lakers' bench. Frye was outstanding for the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns, playing a stretch-four in their uptempo system.

A favorable situation from the outset of his career can have the same kind of long-term impact for Hill's game as his four years at UA.

He now has an opportunity to play with Paul George, a Fresno State product who made his own impressive strides in recent years. George has developed into one of the top forwards in the NBA - not a bad teammate to face daily in practice; perhaps similar to work alongside Williams for two seasons in Tucson.

"First, I have to show what I can do in practice," Hill said. "And I just have to make those guys' job easier."

GOAZCATS.com senior editor Tracy McDannald contributed to this report.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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