On Friday, Hill signed as a free agent with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the NBA Summer League season with hopes of earning a contract with the team for the 2017-18 regular season.
“My focus right now is playing in the summer league, giving them my best effort, and just trying to impress while I’m there,” he said. “I haven’t thought too much beyond that.”
Hill had several predraft workouts with the Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks, the newly minted NBA champion Golden State Warriors and others. Since the beginning of the summer, he has been using Chicago as his home base and working out with a personal trainer.
Although he averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists last season for the Illini, Hill said he wasn’t at all disappointed about not being drafted by an NBA team. To some extent, he added, he was even relieved.
“It just depends on the situation and what a team offers you,” he said. “First-round picks are guaranteed money, but not all the second-rounders are. At least this way I can pick which teams I’m most interested in. Oklahoma City has shown the most interest to this point.”
There are three NBA summer leagues, including those in Las Vegas, Orlando and Salt Lake City. Teams send mostly second-year players, draft picks and undrafted free agents to compete.
Hill will play with the Thunder in the Orlando Pro Summer League. The season begins July 7 and includes 20 games over six days against Detroit, Miami, Indiana and Dallas.
After that, Hill could earn a contract with the Thunder, play professionally overseas or look to the NBA Developmental League for employment.
“I don’t really know what’s next,” he said. “My agent knows more than I do.”
Draftexpress.com rated Hill the 23rd-best senior available for the 2017 draft, but NBA teams in recent years seem to have placed a greater value on the potential of underclassmen than the seniors who complete their college eligibility.
That trend held up Thursday, when 17 freshmen, seven sophomores, two juniors and two international players were drafted before the San Antonio Spurs selected Colorado senior Derrick White with the 29th pick. Sixteen of the first 22 picks were used on freshman players. Just 12 seniors were selected in all, 10 of them in the second round.
“That’s just the way the league is headed,” Hill said. “They can train anybody to do anything they want if they are coachable. They’re looking for upside and potential. I hope to work for an NBA team someday. When I do I’m going to find out why that is.”
Hill’s 1,846 points rank third in Illinois history. His 3-pointer against Boise State in the second round of the NIT put him ahead of former National Player of the Year Dee Brown on the all-time scoring list. He had already joined Deon Thomas as the only other Illinois player with 1,800 points and 600 rebounds.
He twice was named to the All-Big Ten Conference second team, including his senior year.
According to his father, Malcolm Hill Sr., the summer league is his son’s best opportunity to earn a full contract when the new season comes around.
“It’s a risk when you don’t get drafted, but taking the free-agent route allows him to pick the team,” the senior Hill said. “It’s a good chance for him to try out and, hopefully, earn a spot on the team and make a little more money.”