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South Lakes' Hill Making Own Name

By Bobby Kaplow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Feb. 23, 1989

Grant Hill is a youngster in a man's body. The South Lakes basketball standout has been talked about on television, written about in newspapers and basketball publications and, though only a junior, his name is at the top of the wish list for some of the top college coaches in the country.

With the help of his coach, Wendell Byrd, and a private family used to living in the public eye, he has fended off recruiters and the pressures they bring long enough to lead the second-ranked Seahawks to a 20-1 record, the Great Falls District regular season title and a berth in tonight's district semifinal game against McLean at 8 p.m.

And he's done it all in style.

"The thing about him is that he is so smooth," said W.T. Woodson Coach Red Jenkins. "This kid is one of the most stylish players I've seen come around in years."

Only 16 years old, Hill, who is 6 feet 7 1/2 and weighs 200 pounds, has averaged 17 points and nine rebounds a game, and though introduced as the Seahawks' center, he spends much of each game in the back court.

His look and his game are reminiscent of a former local basketball star.

"I grew up around here and I'm a big Georgetown fan," Hill said. "I watched Reggie {Williams} and tried to pattern my game after him. He's skinny and so am I. And he was able to accomplish all those things."

With ballhandling skills that defy his size and a soft and accurate perimeter shot, Hill has become king of the hill in the Northern Region.

"He is by far the best in the region. It's not even close." said Chantilly Coach Mark Martino. "He does so much and he's so versatile. He doesn't have to score 30 to be the best in the region."

"I don't think there is any question {that he is the best in the region}. He can handle the ball, shoot, rebound and he's smart," agrees Madison Coach George McLean. "I can't even imagine what he'll be like next year."

But it hasn't always been as easy as Hill makes it look. A soccer player until the eighth grade when he began playing basketball seriously, Hill doubted his own ability despite playing a large role on two AAU national championship teams. And, when he convinced himself of his talents by claiming several of the top awards at the Nike and Five Star summer camps, the national exposure added new challenges -- and pressure.

At a South Lakes game in December, the crowd read like an NCAA coaches directory: Maryland's Bob Wade, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Pittsburgh's Paul Evans and Wake Forest's Bob Staak were the most obvious guests. Each made a conspicuous entrance under the basket where the Seahawks warmed up, then took a seat to keep an eye on their potential prize recruit.

"In the beginning of the year I was getting a lot of pressure. It was difficult," said Hill. "I started to relieve the pressure by saying 'This team is so good it can win without me.' Then I wasn't playing up to my expectations."

Before the season began, Hill narrowed his choices to 10 schools, and Byrd contacted the fortunate members of the long list and explained the ground rules for Hill's recruitment; all calls must go through Byrd and the Seahawks' practices are closed to avoid a circus atmosphere.

But equally important has been the advice given from a former NFL all-pro running back, Grant's father Calvin, who made his name with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns.

"I try to impress upon him the fact that if {athletics} were that important they'd still be calling me," said Calvin Hill. "It's very easy, when people are focusing on you for what you're doing on the gridiron or the basketball court, to think you are God's gift to mankind. But, when it's over, it's all over."

North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Michigan, Villanova, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Virginia, Wake Forest and Notre Dame have made Hill's list. At the end of the season he hopes to cut the list in half and take the NCAA's five official visits. He hopes to announce his selection before next season "so I can enjoy my senior year and not worry about the pressures. But, you only get recruited once so you try to have fun with it. That's what I'm trying to do."

If there is a complaint concerning his game it may be that at times he is too unselfish, often giving up parts of his game to promote teammates.

"We have a lot of good players on this team and I think I should get my points within the system," said Hill. "It's hard to get it in my head that when the team needs points I'm the go-to man."

"Maybe it's because he's big or maybe because he is the son of a professional athlete, but he's always tried to blend in and maybe that's his way of blending in," said the senior Hill.

Byrd doesn't mind. "He's the type of kid that has received a great deal of press and he wants to make sure it doesn't interfere with everyone else. When you have a team like we have, everyone is contributing. If he gets 30 and they hold everybody else, we don't win the ballgame. But when he's not scoring he does so many other things."

When he graduates in the spring of 1990, the soft-spoken Hill will leave behind a legacy of basketball excellence that has not often been seen.

"It's a little premature to say a kid is one of the greats in the middle of his junior year," said Jenkins, who has coached at Woodson for 27 years. "But he has the potential to be one of the seven or eight great players in the history of Northern Virginia."

© Copyright 1989 The Washington Post

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