It has been a fun run for Papa Hill

March 29, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Calvin Hill sits there in that white, turtleneck shirt and blue baseball cap, chewing gum and watching wide-eyed, and a nationwide CBS-TV audience looks on, fascinated.

If ever a father has enjoyed following his son's athletic career, it's Calvin Hill -- former NFL and Yale football star -- at his son Grant's Duke basketball games.

It has been this way for four years.

When Grant was a freshman, the father went to Indianapolis and saw Duke beat Nevada-Las Vegas and win the NCAA title.

The second year, Calvin went to Indianapolis and saw Grant and the Dukies beat Michigan and win another national championship.

Last year, Calvin was in Chicago and saw Duke upset by Cal in the second round.

This year Calvin saw two-thirds of his son's regular-season games and has followed the Blue Devils all the way in the tournament. His wife, Janet, a Washington lawyer, was with him last weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., when Duke won the Southeast Regional.

All the Hills will be in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday for the NCAA semifinals and final on Monday. It will be the seventh time in nine years that Duke will have gone to the Final Four.

"I'm still a little delirious," Hill said yesterday at the family's home in Reston, Va. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself and ask The Man Upstairs, 'Why do I deserve this?' "

The Hills deserve it as much as anyone. They're good people, and Grant is a fine young man, a senior majoring in political science at one of the nation's most prestigious universities.

What's more, Grant just may be the best college basketball player in America.

"Things have worked out really well," Calvin was saying. "Grant chose to go to a great university. Kids are turning down Harvard, Yale and Princeton now to go to Duke because Duke offers the combination of top academics and top athletics."

Now here are Duke and Grant Hill, with only two more wins keeping them from their third national championship in four years.

They will play Florida Saturday. If they win, they'll meet Saturday's Arizona-Arkansas winner for the title Monday night.

"We have as good a chance as any of them," said Calvin Hill.

"When Christian Laettner left, Duke people said we wouldn't win any more. Then when Bobby Hurley left, people said we wouldn't win.

"But as long as I can look at that bench and see Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski], I feel confident. Having him is like having a jockey who's been there, like having Willie Shoemaker. We've been there."

In four years, Grant Hill and Coach K have gone 17-1 in NCAA tournament play. The only blemish is the loss to Cal in the game that brought Jason Kidd to national prominence.

Amazingly, when Grant Hill came out of South Lakes High School in Virginia and chose Duke over North Carolina, Baltimore basketball guru Paul Baker told me Hill would become "the greatest player ever to wear a Duke jersey."

Yesterday I reminded Baker, now a Washington Bullets scout, of his prediction.

"I think it's going to happen," Baker said. "He's right there now with Laettner and Hurley. If Duke wins the whole thing -- which means Grant Hill will have played great in these last two games -- Grant will go down as the best."

Interestingly, Baker is preparing a scouting report for the Bullets on Hill.

"The kid is a winner," Baker says. "He elevates all the players around him. He's 6-8 1/2 , weighs 225 and has long arms.

"He's the best college player in America today. I recommend the Bullets draft him No. 1 if we get the chance. Hill could start for any team in the NBA and do any job they need done."

Hill may or may not be the No. 1 player taken in the NBA draft. Glenn Robinson of Purdue, Donyell Marshall of Connecticut, and Kidd of Cal could be taken ahead of him but there's a new rule this year that allows a player coming out early to go back and play for his college if he's not happy with the team that drafts him and the contract he's offered.

Grant Hill will definitely be in the NBA next year -- which brings up another intriguing scenario.

Calvin Hill, who recently left his job as a Baltimore Orioles vice president ("It was a good time to leave; I just didn't have the time for the expanded role they had in mind; I'm involved in some other things"), is part of a group that wants to buy the Bullets and the Caps from Abe Pollin.

"We got involved six months ago," Calvin said. "A fraternity brother from Yale, Roland Betts, who's a New York businessman, is the major investor. He's the largest limited partner in the Texas Rangers [who are owned by another Yale classmate, George Bush Jr.].

"We're not active in the purchase now, but we're keeping our group together. We're still hopeful we can pull it off."

If they can, and if the Bullets draft Grant Hill, Calvin can spend the next 10 or 12 years watching his son play for a team he owns.

"I'd love to be in that situation," Calvin said. "I know if I were a pro basketball GM I'd want Grant on my team. He'll do whatever a team needs. He'll do the dirty work if necessary as long as it helps the team to win.

"There's only one problem. It would be tough to negotiate a contract for Grant with his mother."

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