[The late Paul Baker was a basketball lifer from Baltimore who coached at various colleges, did some NBA scouting, and later ran a Five Star summer camp. Baker formed strong opinions about basketball, which he presented confidingly and persistently. Baker always spoke directly to you, not at you, and that made any exchange with him fun. Baker also was a talented writer with a keen literary eye. In 1997, Baker self-published his own sports memoir titled Moment in Time, which he describes as “a broken field run through a lifetime of Baltimore-based sports stories.”
Included in the book is a brief chapter on Grant Hill. Though Hill hails from Reston, VA, he made Baker’s book in part because his football-playing father was a native Baltimorean. But I think the main reason that the basketball-playing Hill made the cut, as you’ll read in the chapter, is Baker thought so highly of him. Below is an abridged version of Baker’s chapter on Hill. it cuts out some Baltimore angles that are superfluous for our purposes and leaves in his NBA scouting report on Hill. Enjoy! The blog typically doesn’t draw from books. In this case, Baker’s book is so rare, the content is worth sharing.]
I first saw Grant Hill at the Five Star Basketball Camp in the mountains of Honesdale, PA. It was Labor Day weekend in 1988. He was a rising junior. The August Honesdale camp is the last stop on the summer camp junket. Howard Garfinkel’s summer sayonara. Traditionally, it is New York City Week, as all of Gotham’s best gravitate for one last blast of exposure.
The week ends with the all-star game, played outdoors in the cold mountain air. In a fleeting hour, summer will come to a rude closure. The sky is pitch dark, framing an orange-peel moon as the entire camp populace, some 400 strong, ring the court shivering. Coaches, scouts, evaluators, and assorted hoop junkies lurk in the shadows for a last look. The players loosen up, and their warm breath meets the evening chill forming halos of steam. It is too cold for basketball.
Grant Hill stands alone, kind of pale, still lanky and fuzzy cheeked. Even his clean shoes have that suburban look. There is no hint of greatness. In fact, he reminds so many of those white suburban imposters. Lots of hype and no game. Maybe now we have a Black imposter on our hands.
In the makeshift bleachers sits his mother, waiting to transport him back to the real world. She also looks out of place, like parents do when they come caring about their kids.
The other participants are some of New York’s finest, walking the walk and talking the talk. Scarred up ragamuffins whose ravaged playground brogans tell their own stories.
The all-star game begins as a selfish free for all. Three minutes go by, and Hill has not touched the ball. He moves up and down the court, gauging. A jump shot is launched from the top of the key, straight but hard off the back rim. Grant appears as if on wings, meeting the ball at its highest point with one hand. High above the nine figures below, he squares in mid-air and gently drops the ball down into the basket. A 10-foot finger roll. There was a hush, a murmur, then wild applause.
I rubbed my eyes, but the vision was gone. Elgin Baylor, Connie Hawkins, and Julius Erving came across my screen. The rest of the game played out in a trance, as everyone there kept rewinding back to that moment.
Grant Hill had officially “come out.” From that moment on, I began to view him in a different light. The more I learned about him, the more impressed I became and soon I predicted greatness.
In the old days, great players spent thousands of hours from the time they could walk, developing their craft and persona on the court. We have heard the stories about Bird and West at the barn-door basket, Oscar on the Indianapolis dirt flats, and all the products of the City Game. Others played in great high school programs under legendary coaches.
Grant did none of the above. We are in the “Electronic Generation.” Kids don’t do anything anymore for countless hours, unless it’s sleeping or video-related activity. They see sports on TV, then they go out and try to do it themselves. Grant Hill got his first taste of hoops on the tube. He said, “I can do that” and “that too” and also “that” and “that.” Then he went out and did it. If you can come up with a better explanation, I want to hear it. This kid was a natural. He was born to play.
Here is my actual scouting report on Grant Hill, given to the Washington Bullets:
GRANT HILL—DUKE—6’8”/225 (LEGIT SIZE)
Point Guard/Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Observed vs. Maryland—March 2, 1994@College Park
LOTTERY PICK—Between 1 and 5
Hill has done everything asked of him at Duke. As the team chemistry changed, so did Grant in order to make the team better. At one time or another has played all 10 positions on the floor.
Combines the gifts of athleticism and basketball skill as effectively as any college player I have ever seen. He is as cerebral as Gola, Bradley, or Bird and just as versatile as Magic Johnson and Oscar.
He is so modest, proper, and unassuming, and has played for the perfect coach in the perfect program that his contributions are muted. And despite some prodigious dunks, his game does not outwardly compare favorably with current standards of evaluation. But be forewarned, there are no smoke and mirrors with this guy. He is a pure basketball machine with the greatest attitude known to man tacked on for good measure.
This year, he is single-handedly moving Duke toward a third national title in four years, playing point guard. At this writing, Duke is a blazing 22-3, averaging close to 80 points and shooting nearly 40 percent on the 3s, because they are so selective on offense. Hill is orchestrating this style, possession by possession. At 6’8”/225 with a wide body and long arms, no one can effectively press him. His size allows him to “look over the top of the defense,” view the action, and make the right decisions. He runs the team like Magic Johnson. Under Coach K’s mandate, Hill dishes the ball out to the right player at the right time. There is very little pressure on the other Duke players. It is all on his shoulders, and he handles it well.
He is a slashing driver with a quick first step and a variety of spin moves not seen in too many 6’8” players. He penetrates and finishes. Maryland’s Johnny Rhodes, a 6-4 ½ inner-city kid with super quick hands, was backpedaling all night attempting to guard Hill. Grant Hill has the knack of hitting the open man just as he comes free.
A 70 percent foul shooter, he is currently shooting 38 percent on treys, while averaging 17.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game.
In the NBA, he can start the break off the boards, lead the break off the dribble, or finish the break with a monster slam from day one.
I would place little emphasis on the evaluation of his shooting. His detractors will point to the fact that he is not a knockdown shooter. Yet he is more than adequate. Like Magic Johnson, he does so many great things that shooting becomes secondary. He leaves that to the mere mortals.
Would have trouble guarding a 6’3” and under whippet. But he can cover 2s, 3s, and some power forwards. Knows the team defense concept to a T. Hellacious rebounder and shot blocker. Because of foul trouble worries, he holds back on blocking shots. But he has the wingspan, timing, and leaping ability to be an intimidator—even on the NBA level. Currently at 125 career blocks and over 200 steals. He also gets loose balls and makes steals in the open court. I would classify Hill as a defensive stopper.
Grant Hill is a winner, and he elevates the players around him. His great physical skills are minimized by the program he plays in and by his own vanilla style. HE IS THE BEST COLLEGE BASKETBALL PLAYER IN AMERICA TODAY. Seldom has a player come along who possesses size, skill, exceptional mental ability, and emotional stability. I WOULD DRAFT HIM NUMBER ONE WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT. He can start as a rookie for any NBA team at whatever position they need filled. The more structured the team concept, the better he would be.