VALDOSTA –– On Tuesday night, Jeremiah Hill returned to where his basketball career took off, playing in Lowndes High School’s Coaches vs. Pros game.
A graduate of Valdosta State, Hill reminded basketball fans in Valdosta of what he’s capable of on the basketball court –– dazzling displays of shooting range, crafty ball-handling skills and surprising, high-flying dunks. The 2016-17 Gulf South Conference Player of the Year poured in 36 points and enjoyed a nice ovation from the crowd throughout the night.
Not only did Hill put on a show in his return, he had a chance to reunite with former teammate Beau Justice, who scored 40 points to lead all scorers.
“It’s always fun,” Hill said. “I haven’t gotten to play with Beau in I don’t know how long, so it’s always fun to come back and play with people you know and you’ve spent so much time with. A lot of people in college sports don’t understand it’s a brotherhood that you form with these people. You leave practice, you go eat –– everything. It’s fun to get back together –– we play off each other, we know each other really well so it’s easy for us to put on a good show for everyone when we already know what we want to do.”
Hill joined Justice on the Pros team as they defeated the Coaches team 131-112 in the inaugural event.
The Savannah native recently wrapped up a successful run with the Orlando Magic in the NBA Summer League, highlighted by a 21-point, five-rebound, six-assist effort against the Brooklyn Nets on July 10.
While Hill calls playing in the NBA “a dream”, he admits that he found little pleasure in watching summer league games before getting the chance to play in them himself.
“It’s always been a dream to be there,” Hill said of the experience in the NBA Summer League. “I’m not gonna lie. The two years before this, I didn’t watch it at all because I knew I could play with all of those guys. So I was like, ‘I’m not gonna watch on TV somebody that I can be. It doesn’t make sense to me.’ I just took that time that they were playing to go work out, work on my game so that one day, I can be in that position.
“It worked out. Regardless of if I stay with Magic this season or if I go overseas, they’ve already told me, ‘You’ll always have a spot here to come back and spend summer league here.’ My general manager and my assistant general manager, they’re two great guys so I know that they’ll always have my best interests in mind. It’s a business out there –– your window closes fast. You’ve got to take advantage of the time you have before you get to your peak to make as much money as you can. ... It was just a great year. I had a lot of fun with it.”
Hill’s journey as a basketball player has been an interesting one. He played high school basketball at Richmond Hill and played one season at Savannah State University, where he averaged 6.4 points per game and shot just 33.2 from the floor as a freshman.
Hill transferred to Valdosta State and, though no one knew it then, Hill would help revive a Blazers program desperate to reclaim its glory of seasons past.
However, that success didn’t come overnight.
The Blazers won just 10 games during Hill’s sophomore season in 2014-15 that saw him put up slightly better numbers than he did as a freshman at SSU –– averaging 8.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and just under two assists in 27 games.
During his junior season, Hill was hampered by a wrist injury that limited him to just 17 games with eight starts. In those games, Hill began to show substantial improvement –– averaging career-highs in points (14.0), rebounds (3.6), field goal percentage (47) and 3-point percentage (46.7) as the Blazers finished 17-11.
But in 2016-17, Hill and the Blazers finally put it all together to breathe new life into the program. The Blazers won 26 games –– the most wins the team had amassed since the 2009-10 season –– and with Hill leading the way, the team won the first of three straight GSC Regular Season championships. Hill averaged 19.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and nearly two steals per game en route to being named GSC Player of the Year as well as an NABC All-American.
Since VSU, Hill played for the ABA’s Jacksonville Giants and was a part of two championships with the Giants. Prior to playing in the NBA Summer League, Hill was a rookie this past season for the Lakeland Magic, Orlando’s G-League affiliate.
Hill averaged around 15 minutes a night through the first 24 games of the season, but things started clicking for Hill from February onward as he earned more playing time and began translating the skills he showcased in college. On Feb. 5, Hill broke through with 30 points in only 24 minutes against the Maine Red Claws –– going 11-of-16 from the floor and 8-of-11 from 3-point range.
Admittedly apprehensive upon his arrival in the G-League, Hill shares the biggest thing he has learned at the next level.
“Confidence is key,” Hill said. “At first, when I first got there, I was a little gun shy. Everybody’s coming from these big D-1 schools and it’s like nobody’s ever heard of our school. So it’s like, I’ve got to defer to these players. I came back this year and at the end of the year my confidence kept growing because my guys were like, ‘You have to shoot the ball. These are shots you have to take.’ So then, when I got to Summer League, I had six of my teammates with me. All of them made it comfortable for me, telling me, ‘Don’t come out here and start how you did last year. Come out and be you, do what you do because that makes us better.’
“Everything else is just being a player –– you make the same reads. That’s why I take Division II much more serious. Coming from my background, we have to work so much harder for our buckets. All of our guards in Division II can beat D-1 guards. The problem is where the bigs are. Our bigs aren’t 6-9, 6-10, they’re 6-6 or 6-7. That’s the only difference, it’s the bigs. Other than that, I’ve learned that you can’t shy away from being you. You’ve got to go out there to be you, nobody else and you have to do what you do.”
After impressing in the Summer League, Hill could be invited to Orlando Magic training camp in late-September. Hill says his agent is searching for opportunities and he will know very soon where the next course of his journey will be.
“I have a few options, nothing’s concrete yet,” Hill said of his playing status. “Tomorrow is supposed to be the big day that we find out what we’re going to do, what direction we’re going to head. I have a great agent who is doing really well by me, looking out for my best interests. It’s making the journey a lot easier transitioning between all of this so right now, nothing concrete, just waiting.”