The Nathan Hill era at South Hamilton reminiscent of Camelot

South Hamilton head coach Nathan Hill celebrates his team’s win over Van Meter. DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment was known as Camelot.

With a lump lodged firmly in his throat, Nathan Hill knew the question was coming before it ever escaped my lips as we stood alone in the back hallway of Wells Fargo Arena yesterday afternoon. I

didn’t want to ask it and I knew whatever he said would be a non-answer, but I went for it anyway.

His future in charge of a South Hamilton basketball program that he has built into a Class 2A powerhouse over the past five seasons is …?

“I want to enjoy the moment,” he said. “Those decisions will be made here soon.”

It can’t be an easy decision and it would be hard for anyone with a heart to begrudge Hill if he opted to step down. His oldest son, Collin, plays basketball at Truman State in Kirksville, Mo., and youngest son, Conner, will soon be playing at Morningside College in Sioux City.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

Hill wears many hats and they all fit him very well. But first and foremost, he’s a dad. It’s why he took the South Hamilton job just a few months prior to the start of the 2014-15 season and it’s why he must make this difficult decision now.

If yesterday’s 54-52 victory over Van Meter in the Class 2A consolation final was Hill’s swan song, it was a near-perfect ending. His South Hamilton teams have always been known for their unselfish style, their grit, their tenacity and, yes, their success.

Over the past three seasons, the Hawks have amassed a 69-6 record, have won three Heart of Iowa Conference championships and reached the state tournament three times.

With a Hill on the bench and at least one Hill in the starting lineup, the Hawks are 83-16 since the start of the 2015-16 season.

And you have to wonder what if Collin Hill hadn’t broken his leg playing football in the fall of 2014, just weeks before his dad began his coaching career with South Hamilton? The Hawks struggled through a 6-16 winter, but since then they’ve been one of the premier programs in the state.

DFJ photo/Troy Banning

It’s easy to take the prosperity for granted. It’s easy to expect conference championships and state tournament runs, but it’s another thing to pull them off. Talent alone won’t get it done. It takes the right coaches, it takes motivated, unselfish and studious athletes, and it takes a community willing to rally around a group of kids to make it happen.

So is this Camelot? In the long history of South Hamilton basketball, it’s dang close.

“We’ve had a group of kids who have put a lot of time into their craft,” Nathan Hill said. “It’s time in the gym, it’s time in the community and it’s being the citizens that these kids are.

“You look at Collin, you look at Marco (Balderas), you look at Conner or Logan (Peters) or Cole (Berg), they’re all kids that could have been very selfish if they had wanted to be. But they know that the team and family atmosphere are bigger than the individual. That’s what has made this so special.”

Collin (1,473 points) and Conner (1,243) Hill both rank in the top five all-time in scoring at South Hamilton, and Balderas (1,020), who played with both, is seventh. Three 1,000-point scorers from the same era is almost unheard of.

Nathan Hill reflected on it all as he leaned against that brick wall yesterday. But beyond the wins, league titles and trips to Des Moines, he knows the greatest gift he received was the chance to coach his boys. Kids grow up so fast and eventually leave the nest, something he and wife, Betsy, will grasp fully in the fall.

Their time together on and around the court may be over. But those memories will live forever.

“To be able to share those memories together with your kids, that probably means more than any win or loss,” Nathan Hill said. “There’s not many kids that get to experience those types of things with their kids. And to do it with the support of your community and the support of their teammates, it’s very, very special.”

And with that, Nathan Hill turned and walked down the hallway towards an uncertain basketball future. If he returns next season, South Hamilton will be the winner. And if he decides to follow his kids on their college journeys, that’s OK too. Because, with him, South Hamilton has already won.