BELLEVILLE — The path Malcolm Hill took to becoming the repeat winner of the Belleville News-Democrat's Class 3A-4A Player of the Year was different this time around.
Hill, a 6-foot-7 senior at Belleville East, last summer overcame a blood clot in the upper part of his left arm, the result of having an undiagnosed case of thoracic outlet syndrome.
Hill spent several days in St. Louis Children's Hospital before undergoing surgery to remove part of his upper-left rib, relieving the pressure that had caused the blood clot.
Hill steadily recovered and was cleared to begin practice in time to be ready for the season. Once it started, the Illinois recruit faced every imaginable defense intended to negate his talent.
Through it all, Hill improved, lifting his scoring average to 25.3 points per game from 23.8 points as a junior. He broke his own single-season school scoring record of 666 points by scoring 708, and he tied his own single-season school record for most free throws attempted with 270.
On Jan. 15, Hill became East's career scoring leader with his 1,770th point in a 66-65 overtime win against Belleville West, surpassing Clint Sitzes. Hill finished with 2,067 career points, a mark that could stand for quite some time.
"It is pretty cool being Player of the Year the second year in a row," said Hill, who earned the honor in voting by coaches. "I feel honored. I feel like I accomplished some things getting that, because all my hard work paid off.
"I just want to thank (the coaches) for giving me that opportunity --all of them. They're all really good coaches, so for them to think I'm Player of the Year is a great honor."
Hill also chipped in with 44 3-pointers and averaged 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals. He had a career-best 52 blocked shots.
"I thought Malcolm had an extremely good year for us," Lancers coach Abel Schrader said. "He improved statistically from last year point-wise and rebound-wise. The reality of it is he saw just about every type of gimmick defense and zone defense you could see to try to stop him, and he still was able to have a lot of success."
Schrader said Hill, 17, laid the foundation for his season by working diligently to build his fitness level after the surgery.
"Once he got cleared to start working out, he did put in a tremendous amount of work in to get himself ready to go," Schrader said. "He got himself in basketball shape and just got better as the year went on.
"He can do a lot of things. He can get to the basket, and he actually impressed me quite a bit being able to pull up mid-range --and obviously shoot 3-pointers as well. He's a tough matchup in high school, no doubt about it."
Hill said the surgery slowed him down more than it appeared.
"I was out for three months," he said. "I never really found my groove until halfway through the season. At one point of the season, I forgot I even had the surgery --until every time I looked at my chest and saw that scar. (But) it's pretty much in the past."
Schrader was an assistant coach at West during Hill's first three seasons, so he was familiar with his wealth of ability.
"I always knew he was a very good player," Schrader said. "But it was one of those things where, 'Can he become a player that leads his team?' I thought, on a lot of occasions, he did. I'm not saying he wasn't a leader in the past. But I thought he became more of a senior leader this year. He was one of the reasons why we had pretty good chemistry this year on our team."
Hill's parents, Malcolm and Machanda, have raised him with discipline and an insistence that he excel in the classroom. Hill's grades, like his scoring average on the court, are up. He owns a 3.2 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.
"I really want to thank them for developing me into the young man I am now," Hill said of his parents. "That's even off the court, because they're more focused on school than anything."
The Lancers finished 24-4 overall and won the Southwestern Conference championship with a 13-1 record --their first outright league title since 1997.
But East lost to 70-59 O'Fallon in the first round of the O'Fallon Regional, ending Hill's career without a regional title.
"Even though we lost in the first round, we won the conference, which was a big goal," Hill said. "We hadn't done that in a long time. And we tied the school record for most wins in a season. So even though we lost in the first round, we had a lot of accomplishments."
Schrader said everything went according to plan until the Lancers ran into a hungry O'Fallon team playing on its home floor.
"It certainly was a tough night," he said. "We came into the season with very high expectations. I thought we had a very good regular season. I thought we met or maybe even exceeded some of the expectations people had about this team.
"We certainly ended the season a lot earlier than anybody wanted, but sometimes that happens. It's unfortunate ... not just for Malcolm, but for the whole senior class, that it ended the way it did. Those games unfortunately happen."
Hill is excited to get to Illinois, where he is part of a recruiting class that includes Kendrick Nunn, Jaylon Tate, Austin Colbert and 6-10 Maverick Morgan. Rayvonte Rice also becomes eligible; he sat out this season after transferring from Drake.
"I'm going up there June 7 to get started with summer school and start workouts," said Hill, who plans to major in business or broadcasting. "I'm expecting to have a fun time there. I really like (coach John Groce's) fast-paced offense, the way he pushes the tempo. ... We're going to be really good this year."
News-Democrat Class 3A-4A
All-Area Boys Basketball Team
Player of the Year
Malcolm Hill, Belleville East, sr.
Coach of the Year
Mike Waldo, Edwardsville
Garret Covington, Edwardsville, sr.
Keenan Minor, Cahokia, sr.
Deshawn Munson, East St. Louis, sr.
Tre Harris, Edwardsville, sr.
Nick Van Osdale, Belleville West, sr.
Falando Wilkinson, Collinsville, sr.
Johnny McCray, East St. Louis, sr.
Darreon Reddick, Belleville East, jr.
Shawn Roundtree, Edwardsville, jr.
Vincent Jackson, Cahokia, sr.
Darius Austin, Cahokia; A'basa Brown, Alton; Mitch Carriger, Highland; Justin Diecker, Freeburg; Armon Fletcher, Edwardsville; Donovan Franklin, Althoff; Markkies Goodwin, Belleville West; Michael Hunsaker, Columbia; Cameron Hunter, Belleville East; Justin Kretchmer, Waterloo; Devin Narvaez, Granite City; Todd Porter, O'Fallon; Kevin Renner, Althoff; Omar Walker, Granite City; Dan Williams, East St. Louis.
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.