Jason Hill scattered nine balls on a billiards table at Jack & Jill's Q Club last week and quietly went about his business of pocketing them in order.
All the while, the 15-year-old Crownsville resident steadily stroked his cue, a technique his father, Bob, instilled in him when he handed his son his first pool stick just four years ago.
"Watch," urged the elder Hill, sitting on a stool near table No. 5 in the Glen Burnie pool room. "He never stops stroking the stick. I told him, 'I don't care if you ever sink a ball, as long as you stroke the stick.'
"The first year he played pool, I wouldn't let him do anything but stroke the stick. I wouldn't let him use English or anything. That set the basics, and now he has the reputation as the guy who strokes so perfect."
After defeating former junior national champion and hometown favorite Michael Coltrain in a national qualifier last month in Raleigh, N.C., Hill has earned a reputation as a giant-killer and a berth in the Billiard Congress of America's National Junior 8-Ball Championships July 22-24 at the Bartle Hall Convention Center in Kansas City, Mo.
"He left the pool room in a coma," said his father, who accompanied him at the regional tournament conducted at Brass Tap and Billiards in Raleigh. "They were furious. Coltrain was so shook up he was throwing his pool stick and balls against the wall."
Coltrain, a 16-year-old who was featured in last month's edition of Pool & Billiard Magazine for taking second place in the World Pool-Billiards Association's 9-Ball championships in Taipei, Taiwan last April, defeated Hill, 6-4, in the first round of the double-elimination tournament.
However, Hill battled his way out of the losers' bracket and defeated Coltrain in two straight matches, 6-3, 6-5, to advance to the 15-18 division of the nationals.
"Naturally, everyone was cheering for [Coltrain], the hometown boy, and Jason came in handled the situation very well," said Tony Coates, owner of Brass Tap and Billiards. "He's been well-schooled, and his mental aspect of the game is almost that of a seasoned pro. He is an excellent player. Give him two or three years and look out, because he's coming through."
Buzzy Bussard, owner of Buzzy's Billiards in Pasadena, says players already are getting out of Hill's way.
"It seemed like six months after he started playing, he was beating players who have been playing for 30 years," said Bussard. "He stops in every now and then, but it's hard for him to get a game because of his reputation. When he walks in the door, they run for the corners."
While others are running for shelter, Hill opts to run balls and not his mouth. In the summer, he averages 30 to 40 hours of table time each week, which costs his father between $300 to $400.
Hill has four pool cues, including a "jump stick" -- which allows better accuracy when hurdling balls -- and an ivory-plated "Black Boar," which retails at $4,000.
"I just go out and do what I know how to do," said Jason, who gave up karate, wrestling and baseball to concentrate on billiards. "I'm going [to Kansas City] for one reason, to win."
If he wins, or even places in the top three in the 32-player field, he will qualify to represent North America in the 1993 WPA World 9-Ball Championships next May in Europe.
Jason knows that if he doesn't win this year, there will be three more opportunities for him. While Jason's age puts him at the lower tier of the 15-18 bracket, his father believes he is already physically and mentally mature enough to handle the challenge before him.
"You can go out and play any sport nonchalantly, and that doesn't mean squat," Bob Hill said. "Jason is in serious competition, and he's very serious about it. You haven't really played the game until you get out there with a serious opponent.
"Jason has been playing men all his life, so playing guys 18 years old in Kansas City will be nothing new to him. He has always played the big boys, and they'd give him a handicap. Now he's handing out handicaps."