As compliments go, they don’t get much better than the one coach Frank Vogel paid to the Indiana Pacers’ newest player.
While listing the virtues of first-round draft pick Solomon Hill, Vogel compared the former Arizona standout to a player the Pacers hold in especially high esteem.
“High-character person, tremendous work ethic, leadership skills; he was that team’s David West,” Vogel said during a Monday news conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Hill was introduced to the local media. “He was their heart and soul, and their lion in the locker room.
“Those things are off-the-court things, but on the court, he fits who we are, too.”
The Hill File
Name: Solomon Hill
Draft: Was selected by the Indiana Pacers in first round (23rd pick) of Thursday’s NBA Draft
Position: Small forward
Weight: 226 pounds
2012-13 per game averages: 13.4 points; 5.3 rebounds; 2.7 assists; 1.1 steals
College highlights: Started 78 straight games; Arizona’s top rebounder his senior year; voted team’s Most Outstanding Player his junior season, posting 12 double-doubles and scoring in doubles figures 27 times; one of only three Arizona players to start every game as a sophomore.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel on Hill: “On the court he fits who we are, attacking the basket with great physicality, playing the game in general with physicality, a two-way player, a solid defensive player, a solid offensive player, not a liability in any way. Knocks down the 3-point shot, plays selflessly, all these things identify what the Pacers are about in today’s NBA. For all those reasons we’re just excited about him.”
Pacers president Larry Bird on draft position: “If you’re going to be a good player, it doesn’t really matter where you’re drafted. It’s just if it’s a good fit. There’s going to be a lot of kids that were drafted who were good players, but the teams they go to are not the right fit. We feel he’s the right fit for our team. We’ll work on his weaknesses, and he will be a better player, because he’s a gamer. He likes to play.”
Larry Bird echoed the sentiment.
Bird, whose first official day was Monday, lauded the selection and strongly suggested that Hill — the 23rd overall selection — could see meaningful minutes as a rookie.
“He’s very athletic, played all different kinds of positions in college. He’s going to be a great fit for our team,” Bird said. “He’s a hard worker, a tough kid. He likes to play as a team, he likes to win as a team, so it’s going to be a good fit for us.
“There’s minutes out there. So if he’s ready for the challenge, he’ll get to play this year.”
Hill insists he’s ready. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound small forward was a four-year college player whose full-time focus now is basketball.
“I have a lot more time to be on the court, a lot more time to get with trainers, get my body in the best shape,” said Hill, seated next to Bird sporting a Pacers cap. “It’s a longer season, but definitely get with the coaching staff and figure out how best my minutes will be served once I get to practice, how to make the most of it, getting on the court as much as possible, work on my weaknesses, but definitely just live in the gym.
“There’s no more school, there’s no more study hall sessions. It’s all basketball from here on out.”
One of the Pac-12’s most versatile players throughout his career, Hill was renowned as much for his leadership at Arizona as he was for production.
For example, the Wildcats have a tradition of awarding the player who has the best week of practice the distinction of wearing a yellow jersey the following week. Teammates had more than a little trouble wresting the jersey from Hill.
“He held that title for 22 straight weeks, or something like that,” Vogel said. “Don’t quote me on that number, but it was an absurd amount of time. It speaks volumes of why we think he fits here. Not just his style of play, but the character that he has and the work ethic he has.”
Hill, a fierce defender who averaged 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last season, attributes his qualities to a two-pronged motivation: He wants to improve, and he hates losing.
“I’m competitive by nature. You want to win,” he said. “Losing’s not a great thing. Losing, you don’t want it to define who you are. You have to go out there and play as hard as possible. You want to make your teammates better.
“I want guys to compete against me to the best of their abilities, and that’s how you get better.”
Although few mock drafts projected Hill as a first-round selection, Vogel insisted that was not the sentiment around the league. The Pacers began receiving — and rejecting — trade overtures immediately after the pick.
“Everything about him are the traits we look for,” Vogel said. “Everything we say about David West being the heart and soul of our team and representing all the right things, having a professionalism to him, work ethic, a seriousness, a caring about the game, about his teammates and about the team, yeah, it’s hard not to glow about this young man, and we’re just really excited that he’s here.”
But probably not as excited as Hill, who worked out twice for the Pacers and couldn’t be happier where he landed.
“It was an emotional moment for me, especially being a four-year player, having a chance to go first round and play for a great organization,” he said. “Some people say the NBA Draft can definitely be about fit. I feel like this is a great fit. My family feels like this is a great fit for me, and now I’m just trying to run with the opportunity and take full advantage of the opportunity.
“The draft is over. I have a lot of work ahead of me.”
A look at the Pacers’ past 10
first-round draft picks — with name, (when taken), position and school — and how they panned out
Solomon Hill (23)
Small forward, Arizona State
Drafted last week and introduced Monday
Miles Plumlee (26)
Did not play for Pacers during 2012-13; had multiple assignments to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, the Pacers’ D-League affiliate, appearing in 15 games and averaging 11.2 points and 10.2 rebounds a contest
Kawhi Leonard (15)
Small forward, San Diego State
After draft, was traded to San Antonio Spurs in deal that brought point guard George Hill to Indiana. Last season Leonard appeared in 58 games (with 57 starts) and averaged 11.9 points, 6 rebounds and 1.7 steals a game for San Antonio.
Paul George (10)
Small forward, Fresno State
With Danny Granger sidelined because of an injury, George emerged as one of the NBA’s rising stars, especially on the defensive end. He averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.8 steals a game and earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.
Tyler Hansbrough (13)
Power forward, North Carolina
As part of a much-maligned second unit, Hansbrough averaged 7 points and 4.6 rebounds a contest in 81 games (eight starts) this season. In his four seasons, all with the Pacers, he has averaged 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
Jerryd Bayless (11)
Bayless was drafted by the Pacers but was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in a deal that brought Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack and Josh McRoberts to Indiana. Bayless has played for four teams in five NBA seasons and served in a backup role for the Memphis Grizzlies last season. He has career averages of 8.3 points and 2.9 assists a game.
No first-round pick
Shawne Williams (17)
Small forward, Memphis
Williams spent two seasons with the Pacers in a backup role, averaging 3.9 points a game in 2006-07 and 6.7 points a contest in 2007-08. But Williams ran into off-court issues and was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in 2008. He was out of the league last season and was arrested on drug charges in Memphis, Tenn., in December.
Danny Granger (17)
Small forward/guard, New Mexico
Granger developed into the Pacers’ top player and was an NBA All-Star in 2008-09. He has spent his entire career with Indiana, averaging 18.1 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. He was injured this season and appeared in just five games.