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Arizona forward has evolved into great player through diligence

Friday, June 28, 2013 - 7:26 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers leadership has compiled a group of talented athletes who have built their foundation of success on maturity and hard work.

Paul George entered the league as a scrawny, frail perimeter player that shied from contact. Today he's driving and dunking over the league's best players.

Roy Hibbert was unorthodox in his agility and offensive post moves when he was traded away from Toronto on the same night that the Raptors had selected him. This past season he made his first NBA All-Star Game.

That work ethic and desire to improve is what it takes to be an Indiana Pacer, and those traits are exactly what Solomon Hill possesses. The franchise selected the Arizona senior forward with the 23rd selection of the 2013 NBA Draft on Thursday.

“Solomon is a guy that has done it the right way,” Ball State men's basketball coach James Whitford said. “He's worked really hard over the last four years.”

Whitford would know about Hill's development. The new Cardinal coach recruited Hill to Arizona four years ago, and worked with him throughout his career with the Wildcats as the Arizona associate head coach.

When Hill left Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, he did so with a horde of accolades, but less of a well-rounded game. He quickly learned that the competition in the Pac-12 was a whole other level than what he had ever dealt with and he had to diversify his skill set in order to play.

“Solomon was very sought after in high school,” Indiana General Manager Kevin Pritchard said following the selection. “Then he got to Arizona and maybe took a step down. When players do that, they have to recreate themselves.”

Hill was a skilled ball handler, Whitford said, but he went to work and made himself into a ball handler who could also shoot.

“He turned himself into a shooter with a great handle,” Whitford said. “He became a 40 percent three-point shooter and he did that progressively. And he still has a terrific handle and terrific first step.”

Hill averaged less than seven points per game as a freshman and made just four 3-pointers. As a senior, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound athlete sank 57 3-pointers and averaged nearly 14 points per game for one of the nation's elite programs.

“He kind of recreated himself from a more power player to a more face-up guy that can really make plays for other people,” Pritchard said. “He positioned down and we like that he (did that). I'm not sure he can defend a 4 (power forward) in the NBA, maybe in certain situations, but what we really like is that he can defend the 3, 2, and the 1 (positions).”

Hill had an opportunity to come out in the 2012 Draft and be selected in the second round, but he took a chance – which recent NBA Draft history shows that remaining in college rarely pays dividends – and worked his way into a better position.

“A lot of times guys that have followed his path for four years haven't been rewarded,” Whitford said. “It's so great to see Solomon get what he deserves through all of his efforts, in being a first round pick with a guaranteed contract with a great organization like the Indiana Pacers.”

Pritchard said that he wasn't concerned with Hill's staying at Arizona, as long as his game continued to progress.

“We don't mind if he plays one year, three years or four years,” Pritchard said. “If they are improving, if you see steps in the player, that means that they are putting in the work. Solomon did that.”

Hill will initially compete with reserve wings Gerald Green, Orlando Johnson, Sam Young (if re-signed) and Lance Stephenson for playing time. Pritchard explained on a team of the ability of the Pacers that would be hard for a younger player to have a legitimate chance of doing.

“It's harder to bring in a 19-year-old kid and say 'Hey, let's go compete for a championship,' unless you are picking in the top 10,” Pritchard said. “Just in Solomon's development, he is physically developed and he can step on the floor (immediately).”