CHAMPAIGN — The list isn’t particularly long.
The litany of players from the Metro St. Louis area, however, includes some of the most storied names in Illinois basketball history.
Malcolm Hill wants to add his name to the group.
When the Belleville East graduate dons No. 21 for the Illini this winter, he’ll be the first player to come from the area since Collinsville’s Richard Keene started on Lou Henson’s final Illinois team during the 1995-96 season.
Hill doesn’t mind establishing a possible new trend of Illinois prep players heading north from suburban St. Louis.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Hill said. “I hope this is the start of a lot of good players coming out of the Metro East area. It sets the bar high. I’m ready for that. I know not that many people have done this before.”
Hill is the third Lancer to play at Illinois, following centers Steve Roth (1992-95) and Bryan Leonard (1981-82).
By the time the sharp-shooting Keene wrapped up his career at Illinois, Hill was only an infant. He still will be one in the college basketball sense when the Illini tip off the season in November. The 17-year-old doesn’t turn 18 until Oct. 26.
“I skipped second grade,” Hill said. “Even though I’m younger than everybody I’ve usually played against growing up, I kind of got adjusted to it when I was a freshman in high school and everybody was maturing. You just have to play harder.”
Hill averaged 25.3 points for a 24-4 Belleville East team last season. His coach, Abel Schrader, wanted Hill to tap into other facets of his game.
Schrader, a former guard for Bruce Weber at Southern Illinois, saw glimpses of it during Hill’s senior season. The 6.1 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 52 blocked shots Hill accumulated are proof of that.
“I tried to push him harder than he had been pushed before,” Schrader said. “Malcolm, at times, needs to be more consistent in how he plays. He needed to do more than just score. That’s what we tried to push him towards.”
The influx of transfers John Groce has landed in the last three months probably means Hill won’t crack the starting lineup at the start of the season. He’ll likely find a role off the bench at the start of the season, but he wants to see the floor.
“It was surprising,” Hill said when he found out about the transfers of Jon Ekey, Aaron Cosby, Darius Paul and Ahmad Starks. “When I look back at it, it’s like we have a whole new basketball team. I think it will make us a lot better and allows guys to be more competitive for playing time. I think this will actually help us out in the long run.”
Illinois lists Hill at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds. He’d like to see his weight increase a bit before his college career starts, but he’s happy with where he’s at in the first week of July.
“It’s not where I want to be, but it’s a huge step up from where I was,” Hill said. “I’m losing some baby fat and gaining strength. I think the hardest part was actually eating right and giving up fast food. McDonald’s was the downfall for me. That was the No. 1 killer.”
Hill, the first commit to Illinois in the Class of 2013 and the player who stayed on board even while Illinois went through its coaching transition from Weber to Groce, developed a solid relationship with the other four incoming freshmen through AAU basketball. Going through workouts with Illinois for much of June, Hill had a chance to represent Belleville East one final time on Saturday night.
Hill played on the South squad that beat the North team 152-142 during the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class 3A-4A All-Star Game at the Shirk Center on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan. Hill has some bragging rights now on his teammates at Illinois since Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate from Chicago Simeon played on the North team. Just another opportunity for Hill to prove there’s quality basketball played in Illinois well south of Interstate 80.
“People obviously take note of when he’s around,” Schrader said. “People know who Malcolm is.”