COLLEGE PARK -- When Grant Hill first started hitting the summer all-star camp circuit in high school, he didn't think he belonged on the same court as more highly touted players such as Brian Reese and Adrian Autrey.
When Hill first went to Duke University 16 months ago, those old insecurities hit again when he found himself sharing the same locker room as more established Blue Devils stars Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley.
"It all goes back to high school," Hill said last week. "I'd see these guys with big reputations and I'd back off. I wasn't intimidated, but I gave them a little too much respect. It was sort of the same thing when I came to Duke. But now, I'm loaded with confidence."
As the most versatile player on the country's best college basketball team, Hill has assumed a larger role as a sophomore )) than he did as a freshman, when he merely helped Duke win the NCAA title. He is intimidating, rather than intimidated.
Going into tonight's ACC game at Maryland (7-4, 0-1), Hill has emerged as a force for the top-ranked Blue Devils. He is as important to Duke (8-0, 2-0) as Laettner or Hurley, as he demonstrated in the team's first two ACC games this season.
"The biggest change for Grant has been that he's not just one of the players anymore; he doesn't mind being the key player most of the time," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Hill scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds in an 86-70 win over Florida State. "He's capable of doing that. He's that good a basketball player."
At 6 feet 8, 225 pounds, Hill potentially is the most well-rounded player in the conference, if not the country. His natural position is small forward, but he subs for Hurley at the point. He starts on the wing, either in the frontcourt or backcourt, but can move into the middle to spell Laettner.
"The only person on this team who really has a position is Bobby," said Hill, who is averaging 16.5 points and shooting 67.5 percent from the field this season. "I just like to play."
After starting out playing youth soccer in northern Virginia, Hill's interest in basketball sprouted as he did. The son of former Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys star Calvin Hill, he made a conscious decision to stay away from football.
"I don't know if I wanted to be different, but it was just good for me to have my own identity," he said.
That identity grew right along with his bones. By the time he had reached his senior year at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., Hill had become one of the most sought-after players in the country. He is still trying to figure out why.
It wasn't that Hill didn't have the numbers to attract attention from perennial powers such as Duke, North Carolina, Georgetown and Michigan. It wasn't that he didn't have the size or ability. It wasn't even that he lacked the reputation.
It was his attitude that Hill now questions.
"I don't know if I really wanted to play," he said. "In high school, I wasn't that competitive and it came very easy. I didn't get this way until I got here [to Duke]. Being around guys like Christian and Bobby and Brian Davis made me competitive."
Not that Hill took immediately to Duke's slap-the-floor, down-to-business philosophy. It took a well-publicized elbow to the nose from teammate Tony Lang in an impromptu practice session after a 17-point defeat at Virginia to get Hill's attention.
It turned out to be Hill's wake-up call to big-time college basketball.
"It was a rude awakening for him how physical college basketball was, how hard he was going to play," said Duke assistant coach Mike Brey.
By the end of last season, he had started to show why he was one of the most acclaimed freshmen in the country. His monstrous dunk in the opening minutes of Duke's 72-65 victory over Kansas in the NCAA final at the Hoosier Dome -- and a solid 10-point, eight-rebound game -- was the stuff of dreams.
"He's stepped up from last year a few more levels, and he's still got a few more levels to go," Krzyzewski said yesterday. "He won't do that all in college. When he gets older, he'll be one of the best. But he's still a very young player [19 in October]."
"There's still a slight feeling of disbelief with Grant," said Brey. "Mentally, our job is to get him to believe how good he is. Mike [Krzyzewski] tells him to go for it. He's told Grant, and the team, that there's nothing wrong with Grant Hill taking over."
Hill has done that in each of the last two games. In a 68-62 victory at Virginia last week, Hill dominated. With Laettner in a bit of foul trouble, with Hurley's jumper off, Hill took over down the stretch before Hurley came to life in the final minute. He scored 16 points on six-of-nine shooting, with four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Then came Monday night. He made 10 of 12 shots from the floor -- four of them dunks to give him 21 for the year -- six of seven from the free throw line. He also had four blocks and five steals, while contributing to Florida State's Douglas Edwards going a dismal two of 14 from the field.
No doubt the ACC will see more of the same from Grant Hill, intimidating rather than intimidated.
Grant Hill's statistics
SIYear .... G. . FGM-FGA. . . FTA-FTM. ... Pt. . Reb. . Ast. . Bl. . . St
90-91. .. 36. . .160-310. . 81-133. . .. 402. . 183. . 79. .. 30. ... 51
91-92. .. 8. ... 52-77. . . .26-38. . ... 132. .. 47. . 26. ... 7. . . 19