Former NBA player and perhaps one of the biggest "What If" players in NBA history, Grant Hill was one of the most prominent young athletes in the country in the early 90s. Before getting drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1994, Hill was already a college superstar making a name for himself at Duke University, establishing himself as one the best young players in the country, with fans and analysts saying he could be the next Michael Jordan.
All those compliments came from seeing him play at Duke, where under coach Mike Krzyzewski, Hill blossomed into a legitimate two-way player that could do it all on the basketball hardwood. At the end of his four-year tenure at Duke, he won almost everything he could from an individual and team perspective and was highly respected among his peers and all the coaches.
It all started with ESPN covering the Big East
However, in his early days, when Hill was still a kid just starting to play and watch basketball, there was a different college squad that he was a big fan of, and it was none other than Georgetown Hoyas. In his autobiography, Grant Hill shares how his fascination with college basketball started when ESPN started broadcasting for the first time, which allowed him to see all the teams competing in the Big East every Monday.
"At home, I started tuning in to college basketball closely. The Big East was bubbling. ESPN, then a fledgling cable network, invented the innovative concept of airing sports twenty-four hours a day. That type of commitment required content, and the network partnered with the Big East to broadcast the conference's "Monday Night Game of the Week."
As a kid, Hill loved the intensity that some of these teams brought every single game they played in, but most importantly for him, he admired the fact Georgetown was led by a black coach, the legendary John Thompson. At the time, the Hoyas were a legitimate powerhouse in college basketball led by Patrick Ewing, but for Hill, his favorite player on the squad was a guy named Michael Jackson - yeah, you read that right.
The Hoyas were unequivocally talented and unapologetically Black
That might be a surprise because he shared the same first and last name as the legendary artist, but Hill loved how he played the game. On top of that, the mindset and the principles coach Thomspon instilled in his squad were the main things Hill appreciated, and he viewed them as a "black team."
"I never missed a game. Every contest was a dogfight. Players flew in the air. Elbows crashed into chests. Georgetown boasted Patrick. St. John's showcased Chris Mullin. Syracuse featured Pearl Washington. I didn't see any other men of color leading a team besides Coach Thompson. He and his team were unequivocally talented and unapologetically Black. It was Georgetown against the world. I took pride in each of their victories. The Hoyas became my Hoyas. My devotion became complete when another Michael Jackson—this one played basketball—joined Georgetown."
Coach Thompson was an ultimate role model
Hill was fascinated with coach Thompson and the hard-nosed basketball style his team nurtured that was rooted in pride and validation. He was a father figure to many of his players, and the respect everyone had for him was evident even to a kid like Hill, who was starting to become infatuated with the game of basketball.
"The wins were not just wins. They symbolized validation. The Hoyas played mean, sometimes blurring the line between fair play and over-aggression. Hoya Paranoia. Coach Thompson wasn't just a coach. He was a patriarch protecting his players and program. Freshmen were not allowed to talk to the media. Interviews with other players were brief. Thompson let their play talk for them. It was us against them"
Despite being captivated by the Hoyas early on in his life and the fact his mother wanted him to attend Georgetown, Hill decided to play for the Duke University Blue Devils. Looking back at it now, it was definitely the right decision for Hill because he won two consecutive NCAA championships in 1991 and 1992 and established a reputation as one of the best college players in NCAA history.
The Hoyas were a powerhouse for years to come after winning an NCAA championship in 1984, and numerous legendary NBA players went through coach Thompson's program during his tenure with the team. Thompson was the head coach at Georgetown from 1972 until 1999, and during that time, he won one NCAA championship; however, his team was always up there among the best college programs in the country for years. His legacy was genuinely remarkable because, as Hill mentions in his book, you could feel he truly cared for his players and the program he was building at Georgetown.