George Hill had only played basketball twice in Conseco Fieldhouse before landing in the NBA. Both times were as a star player with Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) against Valparaiso. He won one game and lost the other. As the newest Indiana Pacer, Hill hopes to add to his fieldhouse wins.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of my whole life,” Hill said of playing for the Pacers. “It’s very surreal. I’m excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to get started.”
The Broad Ripple High School product and IUPUI star has only played in the NBA for three years, but is considered somewhat of a veteran to the Pacers. The time spent with the San Antonio Spurs, backing up point guard Tony Parker and making the playoffs each year has matured Hill in many ways. That maturity and Hill’s vast improvement is a few of the reasons team President Larry Bird had San Antonio executives on speed dial.
“He’s improved every year,” Bird said. “He played with an experienced team with a lot of established players, and now he’s on a younger team where we’ll get to see him do more with the ball. It will be interesting to see how far he can take us.”
Hill is no stranger to doing great things with a basketball. As a senior at Broad Ripple, he led the state in scoring averaging 36.2 per game. During his final year in an IUPUI uniform he had his best year averaging 21.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.8 steals. Those numbers and the maturity that caught Bird’s attention is why the Spurs drafted him 26th overall in the 2008 draft. Last season the Spurs had the second best record in the NBA with Hill averaging nearly 12 points a game. However, one of his greatest lessons learned wasn’t meant for the hardwood. It was advice given to him by players like Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
“They taught me the importance of how to be a pro and how to be a professional,” Hill said. “They taught me that a lot of guys are pros, but you have to be a professional on and off the court. You have to carry yourself a certain way; it’s about how you go about working out and how you present yourself.”
Hill isn’t only taking those lessons to heart but he’s passing them along to the youth through his foundation: George Hill Rising Stars.
“We have kids that need help and guidance,” he said. “We want to help them open doors to bigger and brighter things in life.”
Michael Saunders, who helps run the foundation and coaches the basketball team, said having Hill back in Indianapolis means the kids will be able to communicate with him more.
“George spends a lot of time talking with them about school and staying out of trouble,” he said. “But, his schedule in Texas was pretty hectic. Now that he is home, the kids know that he will pop in on them in school to make sure they’re behaving and they know that he’ll call teachers to make sure they’re being respectful. He’s popped up before but now, he can pop up a lot more.”
Last year, George Hill Rising Stars had 15 kids involved. Now they have 55. Saunders stresses that although the kids play basketball and travel the country playing basketball, the roots of the Walt Thomas are in the community.
“The trade off with the parents is we’ll handle the basketball part, you make sure you help us stress the importance of helping out the community. That’s what George is all about,” he said. “We believe having the kids build ramps for people in wheelchairs, cleaning the streets and volunteering at nursing homes is way more impactful than dribbling a basketball.”