Monday, June 3, 2013

Not Always a Given

By Jonathan Lowe

There's something intriguing about the way fate aligns itself, if you believe in that sort of thing. On Saturday night, about 50 minutes before I started my shift at the radio station I work at, there was an interview about collegiate education. In summation, the topic was about why some of the degrees we get when we walk across the stage don't necessarily translate into professional success.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for getting a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate in your preferred field of study. However, don't think that employers will offer you a dump truck full of cash the second you take off your cap and gown. No matter which degree you earn, and no matter how great the school's reputation is, a good GPA on that level doesn't guarantee success in the working world.

The same can be said in the world of basketball. There's no question that Duke University has passed all the exams when it comes to college basketball greatness. They are one of the blue bloods of the NCAA game, and some of the former players have been inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. But if you look one step up the ladder, you'd be hard pressed to find a Blue Devil alum that has excelled in the NBA.

Save the youngsters that are just beginning their pro careers (Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers, Kyle Singler, etc.), there seems to have been one point in particular where Durham success and professional superstardom would have crossed.

That brings me back to Saturday night. At the same time the radio interview was taking place, Grant Hill stepped on the TNT broadcast set in Indianapolis and announced his retirement from the NBA. After 18 season, four organizations, more than 17,000 points, and over 4,000 assists, the longest-tenured Duke alumnus will be remembered more for his days at Cameron Indoor Stadium than in any other arena.

When he came into the Association in 1994, he was seen as the most athletic member of a super squad that completed a back-to-back national title run just two years earlier. And, at the beginning, he lived up to the hype. The third overall pick in that summer's draft, he shared the Rookie of the Year award with Jason Kidd (who is still in the league, as well). Hill made the all-star game in his first four seasons. During the Piston era of his career (first six seasons), there was only one year where he didn't average at least 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists per game (19.9 ppg in his rookie year).

Then came the sign-and-trade. The moment Hill's heels touched Central Florida soil, they immediately became fragile, along with the rest of his legs. In what should have been the prime of his career, the max-contract player was in a suit most of the time. He played 30 or more games in only two out of those six seasons. Hill's Detroit teams couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs. Hill's Orlando teams usually couldn't get to the playoffs.

The small forward became a wily veteran once he reached Phoenix. His minutes actually didn't fall off too much (he averaged around thirty minutes per game), and, surprisingly, he became much more durable (missed 32 games total in five years). The deep playoff run he'd been waiting for finally came to pass in 2010, with the Suns advancing to the Western Conference Finals. However, unlike the two NCAA titles he got his hands on, he could never embrace the O'Brien Trophy.

So, now, Hill exits stage left. His career has had several highlights, including the winning at Duke, the ROY, and a Gold Medal from the 1996 Olympics. And at least he had the opportunity to get paid for the skills he developed in college. But ... oh, what could have been.

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