BELLEVILLE — More than a year after a verbal commitment, Belleville East's Malcolm Hill made it official and signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Illinois.
"I feel like I'm stepping into a new family, which I'm very excited about,'' Hill said of signing with the Illini.
Hill was flanked by his mother, Machanda, and his father, Malcolm, at a table in Belleville East's library for the signing.
Machanda Hill thanked everyone for coming to celebrate "Malcolm Alexander James Hill, my 9-pound, 6-ounce baby boy's'' signing.
"He did commit early, and to just sign and make it official is a great relief,'' Machanda Hill said.
Among the crowd on hand were Hill's current coaches and teammates, his teachers at Belleville East and his former coaches in the Jets' A.A.U. program.
An Illini hat sat on the table along with a blue and orange cake with Illinois' logo and "Congrats Malcolm'' on it.
"I know this is a big accomplishment, but I'm not overly happy about it because this is just one of the goals that I have as a basketball player,'' Hill said.
Asked what he needed to work on to get ready for the college game, Hill said, "Everything.''
He later specified rebounding and ballhandling.
Belleville East coach Abel Schrader said Hill will have to adjust to the physical challenges of the college game.
"I think he's going to have to gain some strength, especially playing in the Big 10,'' Schrader said. "He does have a very good skill set. One other thing that is different from high school is that it is a faster speed. Kids learn that they have to play at a different speed, and I think he will.''
Hill, a 6-foot-7 swingman, was a first team All-State selection last year. He averaged 21.3 points per game and set Belleville East's single-season scoring record with 666 points.
Hill was one of five players in new Illinois coach John Groce's first recruiting class.
"Malcolm was one of the very first recruiting calls I made on the job here,'' Groce said. "He is a very talented, multi-dimensional player. He can shoot it, he can put it on the floor and drive it, he is just wired to score and can do so in a variety of ways. Malcolm had a terrific junior season, then missed this past summer with an injury. But, he has been cleared medically and is looking forward to having a big senior year.''
Hill, who underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome over the summer, said he's healthy.
"I feel great,'' Hill said. "Better than before this summer, to be honest. I worked so hard to recover that I actually got better from doing it.''
Schrader said he expects Hill on the court when the Lancers open their season against Mascoutah on Monday at the Centralia Thanksgiving Tournament.
"He has been practicing and doing everything,'' Schrader said. "I think condition-wise he is still not maybe 100 percent, but he is very close to 100 percent. He hasn't missed much of a beat when it comes to his game and how he is playing.''
Hill said he plans to major in business.
There is the potential for Hill to have an immediate impact as a freshman, because the Illini are losing senior guards Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.
"I told Groce specifically that I don't want him to guarantee me anything because I want to work for what I play,'' Hill said. "If I'm given it, it means I'm not working hard enough.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.