In an alternate universe, Richmond in 1991 wouldn’t have become the first No. 15 seed to win an NCAA tournament game when the Spiders upset Syracuse, because they would’ve lost to freshman sensation Grant Hill and George Mason in that year’s CAA tournament title game. In the same alternate universe, Christian Laettner wouldn’t have scored one of the greatest baskets in NCAA tournament history a year later because Hill, a 2018 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, wouldn’t have been in a Duke uniform to throw the full-court inbounds pass that preceded “The Shot” in the East Regional Final.
On the latest episode of ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast, Hill, who grew up in Reston and starred at South Lakes High School before playing for Coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, said that he gave some thought to transferring to George Mason before his freshman year with the Blue Devils.
“The idea of the NBA … it didn’t even dawn on me,” said Hill, who envisioned a potential career in politics when he arrived at Duke. “The NBA was not even in the conversation. I remember, a week before my freshman orientation, I was concerned that I wasn’t good enough to play at Duke. I called Tommy Amaker up. He was the assistant coach at Duke then, now the head coach at Harvard, and I said, ‘Tommy, I don’t know if I’m good enough. I don’t know if I can compete in the classroom at a school like Duke, so, you know, I think I may want to transfer to George Mason.’”
George Mason had gone 20-12 the previous season under Coach Ernie Nestor, who was hired to replace Rick Barnes in 1988 after a search that included then-North Carolina assistant Roy Williams. (Just imagine what might have been had Williams and Hill wound up in Fairfax.) The Patriots were two years removed from their first NCAA tournament appearance. Duke was coming off a loss to UNLV in the NCAA title game.
“No offense to George Mason, it’s a great school, regional school there in Northern Virginia, close to where I grew up, but I didn’t come in with this sort of, ‘I’m going to be the best player in college and I’m going to be in the league in a couple years,'” Hill told Wojnarowski. “I was unsure entering my freshman year that I could actually play at this level. Obviously, I started right away and I played and excelled. That was part of one of my issues and my flaws, was confidence and lacking confidence in myself. I think part of my four-year journey at Duke was gaining that confidence and really being ready mentally and emotionally for those pressures and responsibilities as a top pick in the NBA.”
Hill has shared a version of this story before, including in 2003, when he told ESPN’s David Aldridge that he called Krzyzewski two weeks before his freshman year to say he was thinking of transferring to George Mason. Hill stayed at Duke and averaged 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds while starting 31 games as a freshman and helping the Blue Devils to their first national title. George Mason went 14-16 that season and lost to Richmond in the CAA tournament championship game. A year later, Hill set up Laettner’s game-winning shot in Philadelphia en route to a second consecutive title and was the No. 3 pick in the 1994 NBA draft. George Mason wouldn’t return to the NCAA tournament until 1999.
As a partial owner of the Atlanta Hawks, a commentator for CBS on its college basketball telecasts and co-host of “Inside Stuff” on NBA TV, Hill, 45, is staying plenty busy in retirement. He told Wojnarowski he hasn’t ruled out getting more involved in politics.
“That may sound foolish for saying that, particularly in this political climate, but that is something that’s always been of interest to me,” Hill said. “Now, you can participate in the political process without necessarily being a politician, but I have tried to live my life as if one day I would run for office. I don’t know if that will happen, but that is something that is of interest.”
This post has been updated.
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