MJ: Offseason work paying off for Hill

MJ: Offseason work paying off for Hill

Despite a demanding summer schedule of classes, individual workouts, team practices and weight room sessions, Malcolm Hill said he has had plenty of downtime.

In fact, he’s going to a concert Saturday with his mom to see Drake and Lil’ Wayne in Indianapolis.

“There’s a lot of things you can do, but if I’m not doing anything and I’m just sitting around, I just go to the gym,” Hill said.

That’s when Hill gets up extra jumpers, runs a few sprints or works on some ball-handling drills by himself. Last summer he was told by the coaching staff to make 11,000 jumpers. He ended up close to 30,000.

Illinois coach John Groce talks a lot about even, empty and extra guys. Hill qualifies as an extra guy because of his consistent effort and work habits.

“Malcolm is dedicated to work, period,” Illinois assistant coach Paris Parham said. “This summer he has probably been in the gym more than anybody else. He’s just that kid where if you give him some goals to reach, he’s going to do everything above and beyond what you asked.”

What the Illinois coaching staff asked of Hill this summer was to work on his body. After adding 10 pounds during his freshman season, Hill added 10 more this summer and is at 230 pounds. He looks noticeably bigger and more toned than he did at the end of his freshman season.

“I always felt the weight room could get me injured,” he said.

So he took a cautious approach last summer in his first go-around with the Illinois weightlifting program. He has taken it more seriously this year.

“Coach says he wants us looking like Tarzan and being in the weight room is a big deal,” he said. “I’m taking it more serious, getting an extra rep or two in when I can.”

His dedication to the weight room has added 4 inches to his vertical leap.

“I can actually jump now,” he said.

Hill, a guard in high school, spent most of his minutes on the floor playing power forward, including the last 12 games in the starting lineup when he averaged 6.5 points and made nine of his last 15 three-pointers. He will likely see more time there this season despite it not being his natural position.

“Malcolm is just a basketball player,” Parham said. “You look around our league, and just basketball in general, and you see a lot of 6-6 guys playing the 4. That’s just kind of the trend in the game, so he’ll be fine however we use him.”

Parham pointed to Branden Dawson at Michigan State, Glenn Robinson III at Michigan and Shavon Shields at Nebraska as guys similar in size to Hill who have fared well as power forwards in the Big Ten.

“It doesn’t really matter what position I play. I just do what Coach tells me to do,” Hill said. “I’ve been a guard all my life, but I have a new view of basketball now and respect the big men a lot more for how hard they work in the post. Now that I’m able to guard a 4, it has helped my game a lot.”

That wasn’t always the case. Jon Ekey spent time with him last season, teaching him the ins and outs of playing defense down low.

“It was a huge learning curve because I didn’t play any defense to begin with my whole life,” Hill said. “Now, it’s something I take a lot of pride in.”