Belleville East graduate Malcolm Hill, a senior basketball player at Illinois, on Thursday was placed on the Naismith Trophy preseason watch list.
Hill is one of 50 players in the nation on the list. The award is presented annually to the best player in the country. The list will be trimmed to 30 players Feb. 9.
The 6-foot-6 Hill averaged 18.1 points and 6.6 rebounds last season and was a second-team all-Big Ten selection. He was the first Illinois player in 126 years to accumulate at least 600 points, 200 rebounds and 100 assists in one season.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Illinois John Groce said of Hill being on the watch list. “He’s one of the best players in the country when he plays with the motor and the effort and the attention to detail. He’s worked very hard on demanding of himself, and certainly I demand of him every day and the staff does.”
Hill and the Illini open the season at 8 p.m. Friday against visiting Southeast Missouri. Hill will be one of the Illini’s marked men by opponents.
“His versatility, his size, his ability to handle, pass, shoot, score, his wealth of experience,” Groce said, rattling off Hill’s strengths. “And nothing’s come easy for him. He’s had to earn it. He’s had to work. I’m really, really proud of him.”
Groce stopped short of calling the Illini “Hill’s team” this season, although he clearly is their leader.
“I don’t know if it’s just his team, and he would be the first to tell you that,” Groce said. “We have six seniors, which is really unique. We have a senior meeting every week. I’m asking those guys to lead not only through them being verbal, through their voice, but also through actions.
“But as it pertains to Malcolm, he’s really stepped up. I think about where he started and where he is today. It really makes me proud, to be honest with you. In all areas. Student. Person. Player. Attention to detail. Being more vocal. Body. Athleticism. He approaches every day the way we want it approached. No question, Hill is a guy who is much more vocal now than he’s been at any time during his career.”
Hill graduated from East in 2013 after averaging 25.3 points and 6.1 rebounds as a senior. He averaged 23.8 points as a junior.