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October 24, 2013

Hill: 'I will never be outworked'

MADISON, Wis. - Experience and familiarity are two words often times used to describe upperclassmen, but rarely are the two used in the description of a freshman recruit. This, however, is the case with Jordan Hill.

Hill is 18 years of age, as is any typical freshman, but brings five years of high school basketball experience to Wisconsin. After graduating in 2012 from LaSalle High School in Pasadena, Calif., Hill decided to attend Phillips Exeter Academy - a private college preparatory school in Exeter, NH.

"I've always been a hard-worker," Hill said, "but my senior year [at LaSalle] helped me understand that there are faults in my game and I need to work on them. I used the fifth year to work on my game and it also helped me academically because Phillips Exeter and Wisconsin are both excellent schools. I feel like I haven't lost a step and I believe I'm actually ahead of the game in that regard."

The decision to postpone college for a year was the right call in the eyes of Phillips Exeter head basketball coach Jay Tilton.

"He is beyond his years and I think having a year of prep school at a high academic school where there is a lot of pressure on him has matured him and prepared him for Wisconsin," Tilton said in a phone interview. "The kid is an absolute grinder academically and athletically; he doesn't rest on his morals at all."

After seeing Hill play, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan gave the 6-foot-3, 170-pound guard a phone call, which turned out to be one of the most interesting recruiting conversations Ryan can remember.

"He had to excuse himself for a little while [after telling him we were offering him a scholarship]," Ryan said. "Then he came back to the phone and said 'coach I can't believe it, I'm practically hyperventilating over here because I can't believe you called me. Do you know what my middle name is?' "

It was at this moment that Ryan regretted making the phone call from his cell phone because had he been at home he would have had all of his research on Jordan in front of him, including his middle name.

"You got me there, Jordan," Ryan admitted on the phone.

It was at that moment that Jordan responded with a name that is familiar with both coach Ryan and the Badger faithful. "Taylor. I'm Jordan Taylor Hill, coach."

Jordan Taylor is currently playing for Virtus Roma of the Italian League, but before his European days, he suited up for the Badgers (2008-2012). The coincidence was too much to ignore, and Hill was immediately on board to play at the place where the man, who Hill calls his "idol," he shares a name with played.

While fitting in because of one's name is nice, it's also good to fit the system, something Hill does extremely well.

"When Wisconsin reached out to me," Hill said, "I figured that Wisconsin and defense go hand-in-hand and so far, from what coach Ryan has been saying, I've been getting some good reviews."

The Badgers allowed opponents to score just 55.9 points per game last season, good for seventh-best in the nation, and Hill's defensive abilities and dedication will be a big factor in the freshman seeing playing time this season.

"When we got him, the one thing that stuck out for us was that his on-ball defensive abilities are just off the charts," Tilton said. "He's the best I've ever seen, and certainly coached, in New England prep school basketball."

Tilton described that Hill's length, high motor, and overall pride for his defensive craft are reasons why he was able to change the game defensively. In fact, Hill didn't just change the games defensively, he also changed the defensive culture at Phillips Exeter.

"We changed our defensive philosophy last year from being a team that played half court defense to a team that could press every minute of every game and it was because of him," Tilton explained. "Without Jordan, we would have played the same way we have played for the past ten years."

During a three game stretch last season, Phillip Exeter had to go on the road against three of the top prep school teams in country (Tilton School, Cushing Academy, and Thayer Academy) where Hill drew the opposing team's strongest offensive talent in all three games. Against the Tilton School, Hill was matched up against Wayne Selden - a McDonald's All-American who is about to begin his freshman season at Kansas.

"He scored 18 on me," Hill recalled of his matchup with Selden, "but it was a very tough 18. If you're going to get 18 by shooting NBA-threes then I'm okay with that. My mentality was that everyone knows who he is, nobody knows who I am, and I'm going to make a name for myself by shutting him down."

Tilton said that the fact that Hill was able to the opposing team out of sync allowed for the rest of his team to feed off of his activity. "He was able to control the game and our players fed off of it through the trickle-down effect," Tilton added.

Hill and Phillip Exeter won that game by 17 points. They also beat Cushing Academy and Thayer Academy on their way to a 25-1 record and their first New England Preparatory School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC) Class A title in school history.

The way the roster is shaping up this season, minutes could be hard to come by for a young guard as the Badgers have a loaded backcourt full of talent and collegiate experience, but that doesn't scare Hill.

"I don't like to do anything that's easy," Hill said of why he chose Wisconsin. "I figure that if I want to play basketball at the highest level and really make something of myself then this is the place."

"I'm not walking into a spot where I'm going to start right away, I know I'm going to have to work and improve upon a lot of things," Hill continued. "I wanted that instead of going to a smaller school where I would have had a starting spot right away as a freshman."

The way Tilton sees it, Hill's competitiveness and overall fiery nature will allow the possibility of a lack of initial playing time to get to the freshman's head.

"He's patient, but he's not someone who is going to take a back seat - that's just not in his nature," Tilton said. "He understands that he's going to have to earn it and prove his worth everyday and he's prepared to work as much and as hard as it takes."

Hill takes pride in his dedication to the craft and has made it his number one priority coming into the season as he tries to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves to see his fair share of time on the court.

"I always say that the person who works the hardest is going to show sooner or later," he said. "I have made sure that I will never be out worked."

Hill's level of competitiveness has already gotten the attention of coach Ryan.

"I thought I hated to lose," Ryan said, "but Jordan Taylor Hill might hate to lose more than I do, and that's scary at that age."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow Zack on Twitter.

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