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Rise to the Occasion

Buckeye junior compares opportunity to famous baseball legend

A member of the Ohio State men’s basketball team is sharing one of sport’s legendary stories around campus lately, but it is not about basketball.

Junior guard P.J. Hill, a native of Minneapolis, Minn., has stepped up to not only help the Buckeyes to a 16-5 overall record with increasingly more playing time this season, but also is sharing a valuable lesson he learned from sticking with the team.

June 2, 1925. It was another summer afternoon at Yankee Stadium, in only its third year, in New York City where the “House That Ruth Built” stood tall as the New York Yankees took batting practice before playing the Washington Senators.

The sound of baseballs echoed around the triple-deck monster like usual, the scent of the freshly cut outfield grass lingered through the bleachers but there was one slight change the players noticed at the first base position.

Starting first-baseman Wally Pipp was no where to be found at the right corner of the infield. A lineup change had been made. New York Yankees manager Miller Huggins decided to insert young prospect Lou Gehrig in Pipp’s place due to a headache the tenth-year Yankee was suffering from. Little did Pipp know, his choice to open up his position would bring an end to his baseball career.

“Pipp told his coach to take him out of the lineup because he wasn’t feeling good and Gehrig was put in,” Hill said. “When his time got called, he started in the line up behind Ruth and his record for career games played began.”

2,130 consecutive-games later, Gehrig finally took a seat on the bench, owning one of baseball’s long believed unbreakable records. Just like the legendary Yankee, Hill has risen up to  the occasion, earning significant playing time, despite coming into the season thinking his time on the court could be very limited due to depth at the position.

“It shows hard work and persistence pays off,” Hill said. “You need to keep sticking with it no matter what.”

After former Buckeye Anthony Crater elected to transfer last December, Hill’s name was called and his minutes on the court began to increase with each game of the season.

His opportunity to prove himself came in Ohio State’s Big Ten opener against Iowa Dec. 31 when Ohio State head coach Thad Matta pulled him aside during pregame.

“He asked me, Are you ready?’” Hill said. “Before I could even answer he told me I was going in. I had a quite confidence about it before the game because when you work hard and you go through the ranks, you deserve a chance. When coach called my name, I sprinted as fast as I could just to let him know I was ready.”

In front of an applauding crowd of 14,946 Buckeye fans at Value City Arena, Hill took the court and played 12 energetic minutes, which doubled his then season-high in minutes.

“It means a lot,” Hill said. “The fans definitely love me and I love that. When I come in the game, I want to bring passion. I want to bring something nobody else does because I want to be the player who changes game. Everybody remembers players who come in off the bench and change the game. I might not score all the points or make all the plays, but I affect the game.”

Hill did just that against the Hawkeyes, posting four assists and sweating out several hustle plays to help secure the win against Iowa.

The play most fans remember happened with 5:28 remaining in the second half with the Buckeyes ahead, 57-55. Sophomore Evan Turner missed a jumper and Iowa’s Jermain Davis came down with the rebound and was taking the ball to the opposite end of the court when Hill, out of nowhere, jumped from behind and blocked Davis’ shot, and the Value City Arena erupted with noise.

Hill, who is three inches shorter than Davis, played on the same AAU Basketball team and had never blocked Davis before in his life. In high school, Hill played against Davis in the regional championship where Davis had seven dunks, knocking off Hill’s team.

“When the game is on the line, you do amazing things,” Hill said. “I had no idea I could jump that high, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I told myself I needed this block no matter what happens. I am going to give him a hard time when I go home. Who gets the last laugh now?”

With each game, Hill’s minutes have increasingly risen, playing 19 minutes against Minnesota, 20 against Michigan State and notching a career-high 26 minutes in the 80-72 victory Feb. 3 against No. 12 Purdue. Hill finished the game vs. the Boilermakers with a career-high six assists while adding two steals.

“If you have a dream, go after it,” Hill said. “Don’t let anybody tell you what you can and cannot do. There are so many stories of people who were told they can’t do something, and they kept at their dream no matter how discouraging it was. Success comes after you get to the lowest point in your life.”

Hill’s 2008-09 season has completely changed since he has been able to channel his intensity on the court.

“I think fans should expect to see me improve and continuously bring the energy this year,” Hill said. “I know I can do more than I’m doing now and I’m gaining trust from everybody in the program. I know it’s hard to improve at such a high-level but I’m going to work at adding more to my game because with more and more games, I am going to play a bigger and bigger role.”

~ by Alex Morando, Ohio State Athletics Communication for www.OhioStateBuckeyes.com