Conner Hill’s legacy at South Hamilton??Personal sacrifice

Conner Hill drives to the basket and scores against Rock Valley during a Class 2A state quarterfinal basketball game last week. Hill was named to the 2A all-state first team by the Iowa Prep Sports Writers Association today. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Conner Hill could have been rebellious, a pain in the you-know-what. Most 15, 16 and 17 year olds in his situation would have taken that route.

Here was a kid with immense basketball talent, a two-way player that would have been The Guy on most Class 2A teams across the state. He could have scored 20 points-plus a night, played to the crowd and taken on the look-at-me persona, and nobody really would have batted an eye.

He had that kind of talent back when he was a sophomore, and certainly when he was a junior.

Instead, he took a backseat to his older brother, Collin, and then to Marco Balderas, both all-time South Hamilton greats as well.

But who is Conner Hill really? After watching his game evolve over the past four years, here’s what I can tell you: He’s one of the most selfless, team-first players I’ve ever run across.

Conner Hill calls out a play as he walks the ball up the floor during South Hamilton’s Class 2A state semifinal game against Boyden-Hull last week. Hill’s performance in the game was indicative of his team-first mentality. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Here’s what I wanted to find out though, and so I asked him: How did he do it?

“That wasn’t exactly hard for me,” Hill said matter-of-factly, almost as if he’d never really thought about it. “That’s been my style of play all these years throughout AAU. I’ve always played with more talented, bigger and better kids than me, so distributing the ball to those guys, it was natural to me. Could I have maybe taken over at certain points in the game? Possibly. But I had to do what was right for the team.”

There it is, the statement that tells you everything you need to know about Conner Hill.

He did what was right for his team. Always.

Bravo, kid.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Today, however, the youngster who lived in the shadows for so long and happily accepted it takes his rightful spot out front. Following a senior season where he proved to be one of the best players in the state, Hill has been named to the Class 2A all-state first team by the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

Being named to this prestigious group has come to be a family tradition. Collin was a two-time first-team selection in 2016 and 2017.

“It’s a great honor,” Conner said. “I couldn’t do anything if it wasn’t for my dad, my coaches and my teammates, so I’m really thankful to them.”

That family bond — brother to brother, father to son — is unique with the Hill clan, one that has thrived under the pressures of the basketball court over the past five years. Hawks’ head coach Nathan Hill got the opportunity to mentor both of his sons and had a front-row seat to enjoy all of their exploits.

Being the first born and standing 6-foot-6, Collin was the poster child for the recent run of success that South Hamilton has attained. Conner was always the smaller, quieter Hill; he stepped onto the court as a freshman barely standing 5-5 and weighing only a whisper over 100 pounds.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Collin was an athletic marvel, so tall with the ability to play on the wing or in the post. For a long time, Conner was thought of as just a shooter, a complimentary figure, but probably not someone who could ever take a game over.

Oh, how wrong everyone was.

“The biggest thing is he’s gotten stronger,” Collin said of his younger brother, who grew to 6-foot and 140 pounds this season. “His sophomore year, he was mainly a 3-point shooter, but now he can really attack the basket and get to the hole. Now he can score at all three levels.”

As a senior, Conner simply took over. Yes, South Hamilton was as balanced as any team in 2A and, yes, it took a village to get the Hawks that third-place trophy at the state tournament. But just as it was Collin’s team in 2017 and Balderas’s team in 2018, the 2019 version was Conner’s team.

And he was ready to take on that role.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

“I just had to come into each and every game with the mind-set that I’m going to take over,” Conner said of his senior campaign in which he led South Hamilton in the big four — scoring (17.6 points per game), rebounds (6.0), assists (3.8) and steals (2.2). “That doesn’t always mean scoring, it just means having the ball in my hands, getting it to the other guys, and knowing when times are tough I have to take matters into my own hands.”

Cue his performance against Boyden-Hull in the state semifinals.

It was apparent early on that there were some butterflies in the stomachs of many of the South Hamilton players. Shots didn’t fall. Careless mistakes were made.

And so Conner did what he had to and took over.

He lit Boyden-Hull up for 20 first-half points with a dizzying array of long-range bombs, pull-up jumpers and attacks at the rack. The Comets threw everyone at him and Conner schooled them all.

It. Was. Beautiful.

He finished with 29 points and kept South Hamilton in contention until the bitter end. The Hawks lost, 62-59, but it wouldn’t have been close had Hill not grabbed the entire team and thrown it on his shoulders.

“It was very special to be able to do what he did in that game,” Nathan said. “Midway through the first quarter, Boyden-Hull knew what was going to happen as far as who was going to get the ball and shoot it and they weren’t able to stop him. To be able to see him in that zone and take over, he was really trying to will his team to victory.”

And that’s what you need to know about Conner Hill. It was never about him, always about the team.

“To be honest, I was just really proud of him,” Collin said of his brother’s state-tournament accomplishments that landed him a spot on the all-tournament team. “He really showed that when the stage was big and the bright lights were on, he was ready to do whatever he needed to do.”

Conner concluded his career with 1,243 points, the fifth-most in program history. He also ranks second in steals (172) and third in assists (338).

But the numbers that mean the most to him: three Heart of Iowa Conference championships, three state tournament appearances and an 83-16 record over the past four years, including 69-6 over the last three.

Go ahead, Conner, say look at me now. You deserve it.

A statistical look at the prep basketball career of South Hamilton’s Conner Hill:

Freshman Season

•195 points

•50 rebounds

•87 assists

•32 steals

Sophomore Season

•282 points

•64 rebounds

•93 assists

•45 steals

Junior Season

•327 points

•115 rebounds

•63 assists

•40 steals

Senior Season

•439 points

•151 rebounds

•95 assists

•55 steals

Career Totals

•1,243 points (5th all-time)

•380 rebounds

•338 assists (3rd all-time)

•172 steals (2nd all-time)