Florida Gators sophomore point guard Kasey Hill has not had it easy during the early stages of his college basketball career.
A five-star prospect who was supposed to be firmly seated behind a senior during his freshman campaign, Hill was thrust into a starting role early (due to a Scottie Wilbekin suspension) and just as quickly pushed out of action (due to injury). Things actually started out well for Hill in those four games as he shot nearly .500 from the field and averaged 10 points, four assists and two steals per contest.
When Hill returned, the lightning-fast floor general was underwhelming and missed another two-week period, this time in February, due to injury. He came back even better then he began the season, hitting more than half of his shots while averaging six points, three dimes and 1.5 swipes per game, while playing fewer minutes in a reserve role.
But Hill did not play well in Florida’s last four games of the 2014 NCAA Tournament and opened the 2014-15 season equally as shaky.
Through the Gators’ first three games this season, he went 3-for-24 (.125) with 13 points (seven from the free throw line), 13 assists and eight turnovers.
Hill was neither living up to his hype, nor his potential, and head coach Billy Donovan understood exactly why.
“For so many young players, a lot of their confidence is built in external things – what people say about them, how people praise them, how people tell them they are great, they’re this, they’re that – and the first sign of adversity or when things don’t go well, their confidence just drops. That’s not a real confidence, that’s a superficial confidence,” he said.
“I believe the only way you get confidence, true internal belief and confidence is by what you do through working. … It’s a very, very fragile [thing], confidence, and to me, the best players are guys that have a deep-rooted confidence and belief in what they know they can do. And that doesn’t mean necessarily score but they know there’s things they can do on the floor. And they are able to stay grounded and rooted in those things, and they’re able to play through adversity and challenges.”
Hill did not have the opportunity to learn those things last year and certainly not at the start of this season either. Donovan admitted a week ago that he needed to do a much better job helping Hill along and that his inability to properly educate Hill played a major role in Hill’s issues to this point.
So Donovan sat down with Hill ahead of Florida’s trip to the Bahamas for the 2014 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament to help his point guard understand not only what was expected of him but how he could regain his confidence and grow in order to turn those expectations into reality.
“[I was] getting him to understand how he needs to play and what he needs to do and letting him see himself on film making decisions and choices on the fast break, getting in the lane, shots he was taking. There was just a lot of technical things that he was able to do, I think we could help with to him see,” Donovan explained.
“And think I think he really took those things into the Bahamas and they helped him. I think they gave him a sense of a plan. It gave him a sense of, ‘OK I know what I need to do now and I know how to handle this.’ The biggest thing with Kasey was that I didn’t think even in that second half in the Miami game he fought like he needed to. …
“The game of basketball is a game of mistakes and certainly, you want to limit your mistakes, but it also has a lot to do with how you handle your mistakes. When you have a turnover, you miss a shot, you blow an assignment, a lot of it is not necessarily about that, it’s about how you respond from that. We have a group of guys right now that don’t respond very well to those things.”
Hill saw Donovan’s comments from a more direct perspective.
“He just told me, straight up, that I wasn’t playing good. It’s the truth. I like hearing the truth and Coach Donovan always tells the truth, so you got to be a man and just respond,” he said.
“I just listened to him. I didn’t look at it as a bad thing towards letting it get me down or something like that. I just listened to him. He’s a great coach. He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason, so I’m going to listen to him and do whatever he tells me to do.”
Listen is what Hill appeared to do in the Bahamas. Over the next two games, Florida’s first and second of the event, Hill finished 6-for-14 with 16 points, six assists and four steals, a modest improvement overall.
Everything really turned around for Hill in the fifth-place game against North Carolina. Though going up against the then-No. 5 Tar Heels, Hill was not deterred and led the Gators with a career-high 20 points. He executed better from the field by hitting 5-of-12 shots (still .417, but an improvement) and got into the lane with authority, drawing fouls rather than forcing bad, off-balance layups. He hit 10-of-12 shots from the charity stripe, added three boards, two assists and a steal against just one turnover. He even managed to record a block in the contest.
Suffice to say, his coach was pleased with the performance.
“To Kasey’s credit, coming out of that Miami, Louisiana-Monroe game he had worked really, really hard leading up to the Bahamas. He was in the gym, he wanted extra work, he spent time in there, he came in and watched film, he worked, which I think then really gave him a deeper confidence,” said Donovan.
“He worked at those things, and I thought we changed and did some things offensively for him that put him in a better situation where he could do a little bit more. And he was able to get in the lane and make good plays and good decisions. I didn’t think he fought like he needed to in the Louisiana-Monroe game. I thought in the Bahamas he fought and listened.”
Donovan added: “I really was impressed with the way he battled, the way he fought. There was some things he learned through those games of how people were defending him and how he could kind of play better and utilize the way he was being defended, and I think he’s done a much, much better job of that. I was really proud of his fight, his competitiveness in those games. I thought he, from a resiliency and a toughness standpoint, grew up in a lot of ways there.”
Hill said his mindset entering the UNC game was to “just be aggressive, keep attacking and listen to whatever Coach tells me to do and just go from there.” He didn’t want to be “terrible” in Donovan’s eyes but rather an example for the rest of the team, which his coach certainly appreciated.
“To Kasey’s credit, he did respond. We need some other guys to respond like that,” Donovan noted.
It does not get easier for Florida as its non-conference slate comes to an end over the next 30 days. UF still has No. 11 Kansas and a previously-ranked UConn to play, not to mention games against Wake Forrest and at Florida State.
Having a reeducated point guard stepping his game up and leading by example will be of paramount importance to the Gators winning some key games down the stretch of non-conference play and improving their confidence as they enter Southeastern Conference play.
Photo Credit: ESPN Images