Point guard Kasey Hill is not the first five-star freshman head coach Billy Donovan has recruited to the Florida Gators. He’s not even the only one in his recruiting class as his AAU teammate, power forward Chris Walker, was also signed this cycle.
But Hill may be the best point guard Donovan has ever brought into the fold and with the way his new coach is already praising his new player’s maturity and attitude, some early comparisons can be drawn between Hill and Donovan’s last five-star recruit.
“The biggest thing that’s going to help Kasey Hill, in my opinion, is he’s done as good of a job of a McDonald’s All-American, highly-decorated player coming in here and endearing himself to his teammates,” Donovan said Wednesday during UF’s annual preseason media day.
“I think he’s earned their trust. I think he’s earned their respect. He’s worked really, really hard off the court with those guys. The guys on the team really, really like him. I think that’s the best thing. I think when you’re a point guard and you can have a support group around you – as a freshman – of guys that want to see you succeed and do well, I think that helps.”
If that all sounds familiar to you, it’s nearly identical to what Donovan said about guard Bradley Beal during the same press conference two years ago.
“Brad is a very, very unique kid. He’s probably as mature as any freshman I’ve had come in here. He’s got a really, really good understanding of team chemistry. The one thing that I admire is, when you have a high-profile player come in, when there’s a level of humility and respect and understanding that there are some guys here before you arrived that have been successful and have had the opportunity to accomplish a lot of different things throughout their career.
“Brad’s not the kind of the guy that’s coming in here, ‘I’m taking your job. I’m starting.’ He’s not that way at all. He really understands the importance of chemistry. He understands the importance of being unselfish. … He is very conscientious of fitting in, being part of the team and doing what he can do to help our team.”
Donovan also has the same questions regarding Hill, who will start at point guard in place of suspended senior Scottie Wilbekin, as he did with Beal, who also started at Florida from the get-go.
How will Hill handle the starting role? Can he play with experienced talent not just around him but also across the court from him? Will he maintain his confidence if he struggles early in the season? Will the grind of such a long season eat away at him when conference play begins?
“It’s totally different than high school,” Donovan explained. “Kasey has played for a great high school program and a great high school coach. So he’s as prepared coming into this season as he possibly could be as a high school senior.
“But he’s got to learn a whole new system. He’s got to learn a lot of different things. I think the foundation and the basis that he has from high school – in terms of work ethic, pushing himself, being challenged in practice – I think he’ll be fine with those things. It’s just that the game is going to move faster. He’s playing with a lot more talented players around him. It’s going to be different.
“The biggest thing that I’ve tried to talk to him about that’s a little bit different is the length of the season. It’s a long season.”
Hill said Wednesday that he feels like he is fitting in well with his Florida teammates and chalks up his comfort to the attitude he brought with him to Gainesville, FL.
“I’m an unselfish, humble dude. I’m caring. I think all three of those things are things my teammates can feed off of,” he said. “That was the main thing I wanted to do. I try to act as normal as possible. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else.”
Though Donovan did not make the comparison publicly, Hill admitted that his coach used Beal as an example of a highly-touted freshman that came in and was able to be successful by fitting in and being respectful. His teammates are already buying in.
“He’s a good player. He still has a lot to learn right now coming in as a freshman,” said senior forward Casey Prather.
“I think he’s pretty humble. He’s going to listen to what coach says and what the players say about him. I think as long as he keeps it up he’ll be great.”
A number of factors went into Hill’s decision to play for the Gators, foremost of which was Donovan’s experience as a point guard and ability to coach him up.
Hill also knew Florida would be losing at least three starters from the 2012-13 and saw a great opportunity to see plenty of playing time right away.
The conversation after he committed was whether Hill was talented enough to replace Wilbekin in the starting lineup, Donovan would start both players with Wilbekin at the two, or Hill would start his college career as a backup.
Wilbekin’s suspension has altered that conversation to whether the upperclassman will regain his job – or at least a place next to Hill in the starting five – upon his return.
Donovan hopes Wilbekin will help Hill evolve and grow while his career in limbo. The coach also plans to play a major role himself in Hill’s development.
“I think our team and myself are going to need to be patient with Kasey,” he said. “I don’t know how he’s going to respond in certain situations. He’s going to have to understand there’s going to be a lot on him.
“But I don’t need to overwhelm him. I need to really help him. He and I really need to be connected the next month and a half as we get ready to play games.”
For a coach that embraces challenges, Donovan is faced with a number of obstacles to overcome early in the season. If Hill turns out to be the player his coach, teammates and fans all expect, everything else might fall into place that much easier.