Whether opportunities present themselves to him in the form of playing time or a new hairstyle, Jordan Hill is not one to pass up a chance for change.
That’s why, seemingly every game, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball redshirt junior combo guard sports a fresh cut on the floor. Hill said he switches it up anywhere from every one to two weeks.
“I just feel like I can so that’s why I can do it,” Hill said. “If I see something cool that I like or I want to try something different, I just go for it.”
Hill has found himself in an interesting position within the hierarchy of playing time and the rotation UW-Madison head coach Greg Gard has employed this year. The emergence of freshman D’Mitrik Trice has eaten into Hill’s minutes, and in practice, Hill usually works with the scout team. Hill is still in the eight- or nine-man rotation Gard likes to use and has seen his minutes increase throughout Big Ten play.
Hill doesn’t see his presence on the scout team as a demotion. In fact, Gard sees Hill’s services there as a necessity, because he makes the unit more consistent, but still referred to Hill’s situation as “precarious.”
“He’s handled that responsibility very well — knowing that he’s not going to get as many reps over with the regular rotation, but come game time, he’s expected to know what’s going on,” Gard said.
Gard said the scout team gives him the chance to work on his game, and Hill would agree with that statement.
“When I’m on scout, my mindset is to work on something,” Hill said. “Whether it be catch-and-shoot, pull-up, get to the basket, whatever it is, I try to work on specific things. Other than that, on defense I try to go as fast as I can. I think it translates well because I can still shoot the ball when I get to the first-team. I can still handle it. I can still make passes. I can still do all those things. I’m still a basketball player.”
After playing just 11 minutes across UW-Madison’s first three conference games, Hill saw 18 minutes of action against Ohio State on Jan. 12. He scored eight points and went 2-for-4 on 3-pointers. Gard called his performance “opportunistic.” Over Wisconsin’s subsequent four games, in which the Badgers rose to No. 10 in the AP poll, Hill averaged more than 18 minutes per game.
His scoring wasn’t what kept him on the floor, as he managed just 11 points in that span. Rather, it was his defense and general leadership that earned him minutes. Take the end of regulation and overtime at Minnesota on Jan. 21, for example. According to Hill, he nearly cost UW-Madison the game about four times in the final minute when he traveled, allowed the game-tying 3-pointer in the waning seconds and then almost committing a potentially game-losing foul as the buzzer sounded.
“You have to have a short memory, man,” Hill said. “You have to have a super short memory in basketball. You watch the film and I was like ‘Wow, I had four plays that could have lost us the entire game.’ But, all that allowed, I gotta make something happen. Since I’m out here anyway, I can’t waste my time. Just tried my best to stay in front of my man, create havoc and make the right play.”
That play came at the end of overtime when Akeem Springs, who hit the tying shot over Hill, rose above him again for the winner. This time, however, Hill’s harassing defense forced an uglier attempt, which Springs could not connect on and gave Wisconsin a big road win.
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Gard said Hill never complained or worried when he wasn’t playing consistent minutes.
“He just kept trying to get better and do the best he could do there on the scout team,” Gard said. “Keeping that mindset has helped him and grow through that. When his opportunity came, he did a very good job of it, and that was even prior to Minnesota, I thought.”
For some, Hill’s emergence is a bit of a surprise. It’s part of a rise that began almost immediately after Bo Ryan’s retirement, when Gard told all of his players they need to be ready to play. In Gard’s first game at the helm, Hill set career-highs to that date in points, rebounds and assists against UW-Green Bay.
And if fans don’t expect those types of performances from Hill, the coaching staff does.
“People talk about it like it’s a surprise,” UW-Madison assistant head coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “We expect that out of Jordan. We expect the big-time plays in big-time moments out of the guy who’s been with this program for four years now. He expects it of himself, too. That doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody. He’s out there for a reason.”
As UW-Madison associate head coach Lamont Paris said, it’s simply a matter of Hill never wasting an opportunity.
“I think it’s more about just the character — not being discouraged, not being easily deterred from what your mission is, which is to be able to contribute to this team,” Paris said. “He’s had opportunities where he’s had, he’s had opportunities where he hasn’t as much. He’s had games where he didn’t have as many opportunities. That’s not an easy situation to be in as a player, but he’s done a really good job of focusing on his goal, which is being able to contribute.”