HUTTON: Love of game kept Pirates’ Breon Hill from giving up
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or email@example.com. Twitter:@MikeHuttonPT March 7, 2013 9:24PM
Merrillville senior Breon Hill finally made the varsity team in his last year at Merrillville High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 9, 2013 12:07PM
MERRILLVILLE — Meaningful playing time is just a couple of solid practices away for Breon Hill in his world.
He gets the idea that one of the last guys to make the team should just be happy to get to practice, and for instance, do his best job at trying to play the part of Nate Bubash in scrimmages this week.
He understands that he needs to be the good-attitude guy, propping his teammates up with his enthusiasm and hustle.
He knows that he’ll likely have a seat on the bench for most of the Michigan City Regional on Saturday, but Hill won’t readily concede that he couldn’t step right in and play if the situation was right.
He can’t. He’s been so busy climbing and fighting to get to join the Pirates, that in his world, anything is still possible even as the season winds down, even as his basketball career likely comes to an end this year.
“Battling for playing time is what drives people to do good in games,” he said. “They want their playing time.”
What Hill means is that if he doesn’t practice hard, the guys in front of him, like Zoran Talley and Jelani Pruitt, won’t push themselves as much and the drop off in quality will be systemic.
Nobody has endured more just to be on Merrillville’s team for one season than Hill.
He was cut three times before he finally, thankfully, got the call this year. Hill is one of 11 seniors on a roster that has 12 players. It’s an unusual mix — it never really happens that more than 90 percent of a team is in its last year.
Merrillville coach T.J. Lux kept Hill because he really was one of the 12 best players that went out for the team this year. Because Merrillville is small, he has started Hill, who is just 6-0, twice. Hill plays inside and the Pirates needed his rebounding. Lux admitted, though, that it was hard for Hill to get in the offensive flow.
That Hill is still part of the conversation is amazing.
His freshman and sophomore years, he was cut by Jim East.
East’s system for making cuts was direct and not subtle. He’d give each player a brief synopsis of what he needed to work on, and as they stood in line, East delivered the bad news. It was short and quick and not easy to take.
Hill’s problem as a freshman, and his problem all along, was his weight. He was 5-11, 220 pounds as a freshman. He didn’t have enough foot speed.
So, Hill went and worked on his foot speed with his brother, Greg Hill, a 2006 graduate of Merrillville who played guard for the Pirates.
He came back the next year, down three pounds, an inch taller and a little faster. He got the same answers and the same result. He was better, but so was everyone else.
Last year, his junior season, was the unkindest cut of all. Hill had worked hard, hitting every open gym and going to all the voluntary workouts, to finally, in his mind, make the team. He knew all the guys. They knew him. He was definitely better.
Lux pulled him aside near the end of tryouts and told him he wasn’t there yet.
“He talked about some stuff with defense,” Hill said.
In the normal scheme of basketball, kids don’ t keep coming back to get cut over and over and over again.
They leave. Or they give up. Or they try another sport.
Lux had 70 players go out for the junior varsity and varsity team. He kept less than a third of them. The ones that have potential, that make it through the conditioning part of tryouts, but don’t make the team, usually migrate to another school and try there.
Hill has never had a normal view about playing for Merrillville. He always wanted to know when the offseason conditioning and practices started and he came every single time.
“He was always like, when is open gym,” Lux said. “When are they in the summer, when are they in the fall. It was like, ‘Breon.’ There was a human aspect to it. You don’t want to cut a kid who kept coming in for everything all the time.”
And the truth is, he got better — good enough to just make the team.
Hill can’t say for certain why he didn’t just bag it, except that he loves basketball and that, all his life, he just wanted to play for the Pirates.
He’ll get to wear the Pirates uniform one more time, at least. And for that, Hill is more grateful than anyone could ever imagine.