Grown-up Devil Getting His Due

March 02, 1994|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Writer

DURHAM, N.C. — On the surface, there is little different about Grant Hill these days. Just as he did as a Duke freshman, he still can finish a fast break with a thundering dunk. Just as he did as a sophomore and junior, he fits comfortably into a complementary or starring role.

But go below the surface. There you can see the transformation, from prodigy to soon-to-be pro, from blue-chip talent to perhaps the best all-around college basketball player in the country. There you can see the personal maturation process at work, from a shy, naive suburban teen-ager to a friendly, yet hardened, young adult.

"I'm so much different than I was when I first got here," Hill said one day last week, sitting in an office at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It took two injuries -- a badly sprained ankle as a sophomore, a broken foot as a junior -- as well as the departure of point guard Bobby Hurley, to help turn the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Hill from one of the most spectacular college players to one of the most cerebral. "I can probably count the number of dunks he's had this season on one hand," said his father, Calvin.

And it took one disturbing off-court incident -- having his apartment broken into and his car stolen last spring by people he considered friends -- to make Hill realize he was not a typical college student, maybe not even a typical college athlete. "I began to realize a person in my position can't trust just anybody," he said.

But it is his understanding of the game, as well as human nature, that has allowed Hill to turn what had the makings of a disappointing senior year into a thoroughly enjoyable one. And it has allowed the Blue Devils to forget that they weren't supposed to be national title contenders.

Going into tonight's game against Maryland in College Park, Hill has become the most dominant player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Not by scoring more points, or grabbing more rebounds. Not by making more assists or blocking more shots. But by doing enough of each -- as well as playing the toughest defense in the ACC -- to help Duke become the most consistent team in an otherwise inconsistent league.

The Blue Devils will come into sold-out Cole Field House with a 21-3 record (11-3 in the ACC), a No. 2 national ranking and first place in the ACC nearly locked up.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski gives credit to Hill and fellow seniors Tony Lang and Marty Clark. "The three of them have produced a nice environment," he said.

Hill, though, is clearly the leader. While Lang has taken over more of a scoring role than during his first three years, and Clark has given the team an emotional lift coming off the bench, it is Hill who seems to do everything. It began when he was moved from small forward to point guard with the graduation of Hurley, the team's four-year starter and the NCAA's all-time assists leader.

"His versatility sets him apart from a number of players," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "People understand the value of his leadership. When you have a very good senior point guard leave, most teams would struggle. When you ask who's the leader of the Duke team this year, that name jumps out at you."

The move to point, a position he played for three weeks as a sophomore when Hurley sprained an ankle, seemed more of a concern to his parents than to Hill. In fact, after taking four months off after foot surgery last spring, he returned to the gym energized by the challenge.

A different Duke leader

With Hurley gone, Hill felt comfortable with the idea of this being his team. Unlike former Duke star Christian Laettner, who yelled and chided and bullied his younger teammates, or Hurley, whose impatience with others' imperfection made him try to do too much at times, Hill understood what it was like to complement.

And compliment.

"The way Christian and Bobby led those teams worked because the team was older and knew what to expect, but this team is younger and more sensitive," Hill said, alluding especially to its guards, freshman Jeff Capel and sophomore Chris Collins. "I knew that if I wanted to win, I'd have to make some sacrifices."

Said Collins: "It's unbelievable the number of things he can do. A lot of it goes unnoticed. He'll help out the guards defensively. He'll take a big charge. He'll get a rebound when we need to. A lot of guys have to score 30 points to have a great game. He can dominate by scoring 10."

The result has been nothing short of startling. Except for a pair of losses to Wake Forest, and a second-half pounding by North Carolina, the Blue Devils have been flawless. Hill has spent the season moving his teammates around the court like a chess grand master, directing them to early-season road victories at Michigan and Iowa and, on Sunday, a 12-point win at home against then-No. 8 Temple.

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