For the first time is his career, Florida sophomore point guard Kasey Hill is dealing with the day-in, day-out grind of being a starting point guard in the Southeastern Conference.
But Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn’t sense that Hill is wearing down, even through his assist-to-turnover ratio over his last two games is 10 to 9.
Donovan said the 6-foot-1 Hill is “one of the nicest kids he’s coached” and wants to do well for the right reasons. But he said Hill’s biggest struggle remains reading defenses.
“There’s not a selfish bone in his body,” Donovan said. “He’s all about the team. I would say inside of our team he’s probably, if not the most well-liked than one of the most well-liked.
“But where he has really struggled is decision-making, reading defense, understanding when he gets in the lane what and how he needs to play in the lane. I still think he goes in there off one leg a lot of times and gives away what he’s going to do. I think he gets in there and he’s easy to guard. If you saw the Vanderbilt game at the end, he drove in there and made a play off of two feet. He needs to do more of that. I think one of the things we’ve struggled on the fast break, in terms of converting on the fast break, and I think that has a lot to do with your point guard. I think his biggest struggle, his biggest challenge has been reading defenses and seeing things when he’s playing.”
For a former McDonald’s All-American who came in with high expectations, Hill’s struggles have been humbling. He’s third in the SEC assists (4.5), but hasn’t provided enough scoring from a position that during Donovan’s tenure at UF has demanded more offensively. From Anthony Roberson to Taurean Green, from Nick Calathes to Erving Walker to Scottie Wilbekin, the Gators have always had a dynamic scoring point guard. Hill is averaging 7.2 points per game and has made just 8 3-pointers in 27 attempts this season. Through 27 games, Hill’s eight 3-pointers are less than the 11 3-pointers shooting guard Michael Frazier II made last season in a record-setting game at South Carolina.
Donovan doesn’t view Hill’s recent mental mistakes, including a pass right to LSU forward Jarell Martin that sparked a 9-0 LSU run late in the first half, as a sign of fatigue. Hill is averaging 29.7 minutes per game this season, up from 22 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s appeared in all 27 of UF’s games this season, starting 26.
“Like everybody else, he’s got some ailing injuries,” Donovan said. “He’s got some tendinitis in his ankle that he’s got to deal with, and maintenance every single day, but that’s no different than any other player this time of year, there’s nothing physically or mentally I feel like this guy is worn down or beaten down at all.
“I just feel like he’s having to absorb a lot right now. And I think as a coach you never want your point guard to feel like he’s going through it by himself, you want to try to help him through film and those kind of things. To his credit, the one thing I would say about him, is I questioned his commitment level during the course of the season, and I really have addressed that with him and explained it to him and talked to him about that, so in the Vanderbilt game, he misses those two free throws late, when I get done with media, and come back up here (in the basketball facility), he’s in the gym shooting free throws at 10:30 at night, and that’s a commitment level by him where he’s growing in that area.”
— Donovan will be going for his 500th career win for the second time Tuesday night when the Gators play at Missouri. Asked about the five most significant wins of his career, Donovan mentioned UF’s two national title wins in 2006 and 2007, the Butler and Duke wins during the 2000 NCAA Tournament that sparked UF’s run to the 2000 NCAA Finals and last year’s Elite Eight win over Dayton that sent the Gators to their fifth Final Four in school history and fourth during his 19-year tenure at UF. “For Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather and Scottie being seniors and getting so close for three straight years and having a chance to stand there on the court and see those guys get to a Final Four, I think a lot of the time the most meaningful wins are the things that have the most on the line, so to speak, when you get the chance to see the culmination of the year,” Donovan said. “Those would be the few that come to mind for me.”
— Missouri first-year basketball coach Kim Anderson had a scare a few weeks ago when a private plane he was flying in during a recruiting trip had an engine lose power and was forced to make an emergency landing. I asked Donovan if he ever had any harrowing experiences flying. “I’ve had a few,” Donovan said. “We had one, I don’t know where we were going. The pilot came back and said, ‘coach, the left engine is out, we need to land.’ I said, ‘well that’s probably a good idea to land.’ We landed with one engine there, and obviously you’re concerned with that. I had really, really bad turbulence on time in Colorado that was really bad. I wasn’t even sure we could land. I always kinda look at the pilots. When those guys start getting concerned, then I start getting concerned. Those guys were a little concerned up there in the front, but nothing where we would’ve had a crash landing, thank God, or anything like that. I trust the people here.”
— Donovan admitted it’s been tough to stomach not to see his team grow and improve at the rate he wanted to since the season began. “That’s hard for me,” the veteran coach said. “Because you invest, you know, as much as you can to try to help these guys grow, and that’s one of the things I’d said earlier, you know, the whole commitment part, when something’s right there in front of you you’ve gotta make that kind of decision to be really really committed to it in terms of what goes into winning. To start the year, this is what I saw, I saw guys that had their own view of what it was gonna take for them to be successful. Now that that’s not the case. The commitment level’s amped itself up from where they thought it was at.
“As a coach, like I’ve said, you take responsibility for your team and guys being able to grow and develop and since I’ve been here we’ve always prided ourselves in guys getting better and there’s a lot of guys you can trace back to that have made huge jumps that have made great commitments and have just continued to get better.”