Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- First things first, regarding Kasey Hill.
The Florida freshman and McDonald’s All-America point guard starred at the prep hoops factory at Montverde (Fla.) Academy, where he played alongside gifted, highly touted teammates now scattered at places like Kentucky, Kansas, Ole Miss, West Virginia, Clemson and Harvard.
Hill knows what it’s like to be surrounded by talented players.
Last year, Montverde won the ESPN High School national championship tournament when Hill -- after St. Benedict (N.J.) Prep hit a 3-pointer to take a one-point lead with five seconds left -- dashed up the middle of the floor, clocking ticking down, got into the lane and kicked a pass to the right corner, where teammate Jalyn Patterson swished a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win.
Hill knows about playing in big-time pressure; knows about making plays to win in the clutch.
“I don’t feel like I’m ahead of the game, really, but I do feel like I’m more ready for the stuff that’s going to be thrown at me,” Hill said. “I just think I’m more prepared.”
He better be.
Hill, the 6-foot-1, 181-pounder from Eustis, Fla., won’t have to wait long to see how he transitions from top-flight high school competition to major college basketball. With senior point guard Scott Wilbekin expected to miss games as part of his suspension to start the 2013-14 season, Hill will be handed the keys to the Gators’ offense before taking his first mid-term exam.
Florida coach Billy Donovan, entering his 17th season on the UF sidelines, said at Wednesday’s tip-off news conference that Hill came to the Gators as polished as any freshman could be, given his time at Montverde. Donovan cautioned, however, that Hill is in for quite an awakening.
“The foundation and the base he has from high school, in terms of work ethic, pushing himself and being challenged in practice, he’ll be fine with those things," said Donovan, whose team starts practice Friday. “It’s just that the game is going to be a lot faster. He’s playing with more talented players around him. It’s going to be different.”
Hill’s new coaches and teammates agree. But they also know it’s going to be fun working with a playmaker of Hill's mentality -- “I’m a pass-first point guard,” he proudly states -- and such incredible acceleration and explosiveness.
That’s the player assistant coach Matt McCall drooled over while watching Hill’s juggernaut club team, the Florida Rams, run roughshod through the AAU circuit, then later on at Montverde, one of the nation's top basketball boutique schools.
What impressed McCall as much as Hill’s skills set was the humility with which he carried himself. Hill may be the 10th McDonald’s All-American to play for Donovan, but he in no way exudes the negative traits of a big-timer.
Such a demeanor, McCall said, will serve Hill well as he weaves his way to the next level.
“There are a lot of kids who enter college with those types of accolades that have big egos,” McCall said. “One of Kasey’s strengths is he doesn’t think he has it all figured out. He wants to be coached and he’s constantly looking for ways to learn and get better. When you’re willing to learn and be coached and take criticism, you immediately gain respect.”
No-look passes, crossover dribbles and flying dunks don't hurt, either.
“He’s electrifying,” said junior guard Eli Carter, the transfer from Rutgers. “Everyone has seen him play. He’s doing the same stuff out here he was doing in high school.”
Obviously, pick-up basketball against your teammates is a lot different than attacking the paint at Rupp Arena. Or at Kohl Center on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, where the Gators play their second game of the season. Or even at the O’Connell Center against North Florida, UF’s season opening opponent.
Barring some unforeseen circumstances, Hill figures to be on the floor when the Gators throw it up for real Nov. 8.
“We’re going to have to be patient with Kasey,” Donovan said. “When you’ve never coached a guy, never been in a game with a guy, never in a huddle with a guy, I don’t know how he’s going to respond in certain situations. He’s going to have to be able to understand there is a lot on him, but I don’t need to overwhelm him. I need to help him.”
Donovan was an All-Big East Conference point guard at Providence -- as a senior. His first year was a far cry from his last one. And he had nowhere near the expectations that Hill brings with him.
Neither did Wilbekin, who graduated from high school a year early, spent two seasons as a role player off the UF bench, then last season became the team’s floor general and solidified himself as one of the Southeastern Conference’s best on-ball defenders.
Both Donovan and Wilbekin have experiences and wisdom to share with Hill to help him gain his Division-I footing, but neither of them know what it’s like to bear such an immense burden of expectations; probably unrealistic ones, at that.
Remember, this was the No. 1 or 2 point guard prospect in the nation, depending on the recruiting service. Some scouts drew comparisons to Allen Iverson and John Wall.
The anticipation for this kid will be through the O’Dome roof.
“I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought about that,” Hill said.
The rest of the Gators say they’ll share in Hill’s expectations by helping him work through them; the good and the bad.
Make no mistake, there will be some bad.
“If I could tell him anything, it would be to keep your head down and just work hard," said sophomore guard Michael Frazier, who played with Hill at Montverde two years ago. "At the end of the day, those expectations aren’t real. It’s about hard work and how good you are.”
Senior center Patric Young: “There’s always that freshman experience when you get that first slap in the face and realize things are going to be tougher than you even thought they’d be. Kasey will have that, but he’ll also have a foundation of guys willing to jump through hoops for him, love him and be there for him.”
He’ll need that.
In the interim, the Gators need him. Badly.
“I’m a normal person, so I’m going to make mistakes, I know that,” Hill said. “But I also know I’m going to try my best, no matter what’s happening, for this team, for these guys. I just want to win. I want to win."