Johnny Hill is settling in quite nicely at point guard for the Redbirds. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
Johnny Hill claims to be a worrier and a shy person.
You wouldn’t know it by the warm, infectious smile that brightens a room and pumps a breath of freshness in the air when he flashes it, which is often.
Hill, who says he can’t start the day without smiling, likes to relax by laughing and smiling. And his perfect day would be one with no worry.
“I worry about everything. I get that from my mom,” said the Illinois State sophomore guard, who hails from Glendale Heights and led Glenbard East to a third-place finish in the 2011 Class 4A state tournament.
The 6-foot-3 Hill knows that being a worrier is not a good trait for guy, who is making the transition from a scoring guard to a point guard this year.
“I know I just need to calm down and learn to let things slide off my back more when I make a mistake and move onto the next play,” said Hill. “But I worry about disappointing my teammates and others.”
Hill shouldn’t fret over his first nine games at his new position this year.
He has 33 assists with only 17 turnovers, while averaging 6.4 points and 2.8 rebounds.
“Johnny might be the biggest surprise so far,” said ISU coach Dan Muller, whose 6-3 team returns to action Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at Redbird Arena against non-conference foe Morgan State (3-3) after a seven-day break for final exams.
“Johnny is clearly playing a position and a role that is new to him,” Muller continued. “He’s done a good job of playing within himself at a position that is difficult to play. His turnover numbers are great for a guy, who is not a natural point guard.
“He gives us length and can really finish at the offensive end. He’s made some big baskets over the course of the season already. He’s a team player with a great attitude. He has a lot of energy and plays with a lot of emotion. And he’s only going to get better.”
It would be hard to top Hill's performance last time out in an 85-63 victory over Western Michigan. He dished out 10 assists without a turnover in 30 minutes, while scoring seven points, handling six rebounds and getting two steals.
Thinking about position switch
Hill said he actually began thinking about moving to point guard last season after his playing time diminished late in the year.
“I talked to Coach Jank (former coach Tim Jankovich) before he left and he let me know that if he had stayed that (point guard) would be my role,” Hill continued. “It was kind of a surprise to me, but then it wasn’t. I really like to get guys the ball and he saw that.
"He said he really thought that was my calling. During the summer, I worked really hard on my ball-handling and everything else I needed to be a good point guard. I just want to help the team any way I can.”
Hill said the move to point guard has been pretty much what he imagined. Although, he admits the Louisville game was a rude awakening.
“A lot of people thought I played great in that game, but six turnovers were terrible,” he added. “That game was a shocking moment for me because it let me know I really have a lot to work on and a long way to go.”
Hill carried a scorer’s mentality in high school, averaging 20.9 points as a senior when he earned all-state honors for a second time.
“In high school I was a scorer. That’s all I did,” said Hill. “But when I got to college I realized roles change with the personnel around you. We’ve got a scorer here in Tyler (Brown). He’s one of the best scorers in Division I with Jackie (Carmichael) alongside.
“We have so many guys who can score, so I feel that’s not one of my biggest roles right now. I had to change my mindset a little bit and get guys involved rather than looking to score as much.”
Hill also said he’s had to earn the trust of his teammates on the court.
“As a point guard, you have to give guys something to believe in,” he added. “Because I’m in a new position, I almost have to make the guys believe in me even more and trust in me. I need to be there spark.
“Every day in practice I try to make sure I’m engaged, energetic and contributing. I know I haven’t arrived yet, so every day I’m just working hard trying to get better.”
Another driving force for Hill has been memories of last season.
“I was absolutely happy with the success of the team collectively, but as an individual I don’t think I did what I needed to do," he said. "I’m my biggest critic, so that ate away at me sitting on the bench. My goal this season was not to have a season like last year.”
Muller said Hill is a “mamma’s boy” and he won’t dispute it. He calls Gina Hill his biggest hero by far.
“I told her one day she didn’t understand how happy I was that God put her in my life,” said Hill, the second youngest of five children (two brothers and two sisters). “Seeing all the sacrifices she made for us as a single mom and all the struggles she went through. Now to see the lady she is today is amazing.
“Christmas is a big holiday for her and even though she didn’t have the financial funds she needed, she made sure that our Christmas was the best. You don’t see that when you’re young. But when you grow up and realize all the things she had to go through in order for me to get some success, it’s tremendous and a compliment to her.
“My mom let me know from a young age that if I wanted to do something so bad that I had to stick with my dreams and ambitions.”
One thing that drives Gina Hill crazy is her son’s passion for shoes.
“I love shoes,” her son said with his trademark laugh and smile. “I’ve got all kinds of styles and different colors. I’ve probably got 20 pair in my dorm room and another 20 to 30 pair at home. I try to wear different shoes every day. It’s a crazy habit to have and an expensive one.”
But it’s an appropriate one for the 20-year-old apparel, design and merchandising major.
About Johnny Hill
Birthplace and date: Chicago (Feb. 22)
Major: Apparel, design and merchandising
Nickname: Jchill (from his email address)
Favorite food: Nachos
Favorite ice cream: Mint chocolate
Favorite sports team: Dallas Cowboys
Person you admire most: Mom
Favorite music: Rap
Favorite drink: Coke
Favorite color: Red
Favorite animal: Dog
Least favorite animal: Rat
Basketball hero: Kobe Bryant
Why do you wear No. 44: No reason, just a number
Pet peeve: People repeating themselves
Thing that scares you the most: God because of the things that can happen to you in your life can change in an instant. It’s all part of his will
Fondest basketball memory: My high school basketball team
Best book ever read besides Bible: Monster
Biggest obstacle overcome: Proving those who doubt me wrong
Perfect day: One without worries
Biggest weakness: Worry
Life in one word: Successful
Away from basketball, you: listen to music
How do you relax: Laugh and smile
People would be surprised that I am: Shy
Can’t start my day without: Smiling
Secret addiction: Hot cheetos
Best advice given to you: From my mom - never give up