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Grant Hill Continues Legendary USA Basketball Career as Men’s National Team Managing Director

  • Author:
    Steve Drumwright, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Nov 17, 2021

 

You might say Grant Hill was born for this opportunity.

 

And considering he is the son of a former NFL star running back, that is a remarkable statement.

 

Back on April 3, the USA Basketball Board of Directors named the 49-year-old as the successor to Jerry Colangelo as USA Men’s National Team managing director. Hill took over the program following this summer’s golden run at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

 

Hill’s path to this point has several layers, not the least of which was his 19-year NBA career and enshrinement into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2018.

 

From the beginning

 

The year was 1990. Hill was a sensational high school senior basketball player at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia, already having committed to emerging NCAA power Duke University.

 

That was when he was contacted for an opportunity that would make one of his dreams come true: Playing for USA Basketball. Hill was invited to try out for the 1990 FIBA Americas U18 Championship team. He made the team, coached by South Alabama’s Ronnie Arrow, that traveled to Montevideo, Uruguay.

 

“It was just a great experience and it was a great bonding experience,” Hill said. “Being a part of a different culture for a couple of weeks playing against other teams, great teams and ultimately winning a gold medal. I feel like it really added to my preparation and my development before entering college. I think I grew tremendously from all of it and played with some other really talented players as well. It was nothing but a positive experience for me.”

 

As one of the youngest members of that team, Hill was the USA’s second-leading scorer at 16.3 points per game to go along with 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He also had a team-high 3.6 steals per game as the USA went 7-0 en route to the gold medal.

 

A Dream experience

 

Playing in the Olympic Games was one of Hill’s biggest dreams. He had become a fan of the USA men’s national team during the 1984 Los Angeles and 1988 Seoul Games.

 

“I remember watching those closely,” said Hill, who chose basketball in high school over following father Calvin Hill’s football path. “And ’84 is when I was kind of falling in love with basketball, so watching that great team, the various exhibition games that they played leading up to and preparing for the Olympics and in the actual Olympics in L.A. themselves. I remember staying up late in ’88, when games were in Seoul and watching the game coached by John Thompson. And the heartbreak when we lost.”

 

Hill was on the 1991 U.S. Pan American Games Team that went 6-1 and won a bronze medal in Havana, Cuba. But by that time, FIBA — following the USA’s bronze-medal finish in Seoul — had reversed course and allowed the use of NBA players in the Olympic Games. 

 

In the midst of a dynamic career at Duke, Hill instead watched as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, David Robinson and Charles Barkley were among the NBA stars picked to represent the USA in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

 

“I remember I was just like, ‘Wow!’ I was amazed that that would happen and then trying to figure out who would play,” Hill said. “But then also kind of being a little bit heartbroken because at the time, I thought it was just sort of a one-time thing. Here I am, I’m 18 years old, just finished my freshman year in college and I'm thinking they're gonna do this one time and then they'll go back to college players and I'm going to miss out.”

 

Hill still had a role to play, though, as he was one of the collegians selected for the USA Select Team to be practice fodder for the original Dream Team. In the first scrimmage between the two teams, the college players famously beat the Dream Team.

 

“But talent prevailed and they ended up dominating us the next couple of days,” Hill said. “I think that overall experience, for me personally, it just gave me the confidence that I can not only play at that next level, but I can be a really good player in the next level.”

 

Finally, the Olympic Games

 

Much to Hill’s delight, the Dream Team was not a one-time event. Using NBA players is still in existence today, with foreign players — including Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic — among the NBA’s best.

 

He was the third overall pick in the 1994 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons after winning back-to-back NCAA titles during his Duke career. Hill immediately established himself as one of the better NBA players, winning Rookie of the Year in 1995 after averaging 19.9 points per game, the only one of his first six seasons he didn’t put up at least 20 points a game.

 

So when it came time to pick the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team, Hill’s all-around skillset made him an obvious choice for the 12-player roster for the 1996 Atlanta Games.

 

“It was incredible,” Hill said of finally getting the opportunity to play in the Olympic Games. “Two years into the NBA, I was the youngest guy on the team, there were six members from the original Dream Team. But to play with these guys every day and to be around greatness, from a basketball development standpoint, it was the best. The practices, the learning and developing relationships with these guys, understanding what made them great.

 

“Then of course the competition, the games. And then just being in the Olympics, that's something that you grew up watching and dreaming about. To be able to walk into the Opening Ceremony and all the athletes from all over the world and all the fans and all the delegations that accompany that. It was just surreal. I still remember that.”

 

Much like the original Dream Team in 1992, the 1996 version with Hill dominated the competition en route to an Olympic gold medal.

 

Off the court, Hill remembers his interactions with the U.S. women’s gymnastics team led by Dominique Dawes and superstar sprinter Michael Johnson.

 

“Being hunkered down in Atlanta and being a part of that Olympic experience both as an athlete but also as a spectator was really truly one of the great highlights, the great months of my career,” Hill said.

 

A bad twist in 2000

 

Hill put what he learned with the U.S. Olympic Team to good use and it came at a prime time in his career. Entering the 1999-2000 season, he was one of the elite NBA players and was entering his free-agent season.

 

While the Pistons weren’t contenders — they finished 42-40, seventh in the Eastern Conference — Hill sustained an ankle injury that might have sidelined most players. But with his free agency looming and another Olympic Games that summer, Hill for the most part played through the injury and had career bests of 25.8 points and 6.3 points in the 74 games he played.

 

Hill was selected to play in the 2000 Sydney Games, but due to the ankle injury in the NBA playoffs, he did not go to Australia.

 

“I was so appreciative of (1996) and also looking forward to other Olympic experiences,” Hill said. “I was 23 at the time and felt that I would have an opportunity maybe to participate in a few more. Coming out of that, I was looking ahead to the next experience and I was denied those for various reasons.”

 

Ankle issues affected the rest of Hill’s career, including sidelining him for the entire 2003-04 season. He did play with three more teams until retiring after the 2012-13 season.

 

Hill's NBA career saw him play in 1,205 regular season games, and compiled 34,775 minutes played (33.9 mpg.), 17,137 career points (16.7 ppg.), 6,169 rebounds (6.0 rpg.) and 4,252 assists (4.1 apg.).

 

Locker room to boardroom

 

Since retiring, Hill has remained close to the NBA. He is an analyst on Turner Sports telecasts, is host of “Inside Stuff” on NBA TV and became part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 and is board vice president. Hill also has a marketing and management company, Hill Ventures, that touches real estate, fine art and community investments.

 

When it became known that Colangelo was going to step down as USA Basketball’s managing director of the Men’s National Team, it was Hill who said he made first contact regarding his interest in taking over the role. That was more than a year before Hill was appointed to the prestigious position, a decision delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The various layers that formed Hill’s experience with USA Basketball — from the first invite to try out for the 1990 FIBA Americas U18 Championship team to winning Olympic gold in 1996 — will help develop his process for the future of the Men’s National Team.

 

“I think I understand the importance of the experience, which I was fortunate to have on multiple levels — although it's a different time, a different era,” Hill said. “I thought that was important. I think also understanding the backstory and the context that has gone into establishing this incredible foundation that exists with USA Basketball. And then sort of just being the steward of that and continue pushing it forward. 

 

“Eras change, games change, the game will evolve. I thought it'd be a great challenge. I thought it'd be incredibly fulfilling to have that kind of leadership position.”

 

 

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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