Arizona Wildcats forward Solomon Hill is a rarity: a talented senior in college basketball.
He’s been good — very good at times — but not super enough to jump early to the NBA. Hill has simply put one foot in front of the other, making steady progress, starting 94 games and earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season.
And now … he just might be the best player in the league.
Hill is certainly in that discussion, and when Lindy’s College Basketball Annuals comes out next month, he will be the Pac-12′s preseason Player of the Year.
“Each and every year that he’s been at Arizona, he’s added some element to himself as a player,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said in an interview earlier this summer.
“Solomon is a real product of continued hard work on his part. Having been part of a Pac-10 championship team, and having also been at Arizona when we haven’t been very good, I think he’s hungry to finish off his senior year with the best season he’s had at Arizona.
“And he’s willing to put in the work to make that happen.”
(Disclosure: While I write the Arizona preview for Lindy’s and do some editing, venerable basketball writer Frank Burlison is responsible for the rankings and preseason All-Pac-12 teams, etc.)
Hill, as an undersized power forward last season, led the Wildcats in rebounding (7.7 per game) and was first in assists (2.6 per game). He nearly pulled off the team’s triple crown, finishing second in scoring to Kyle Fogg (13.5 points to 12.9 points).
Versatility has always been his strength, and Hill added the 3-point shot to his repertoire last season. After struggling from distance early in the season, he nailed 27 of 51 3-pointers in the final 17 games, often taking advantage of open looks against big guys who did not want to guard him at the arc, lest Hill beat them off the dribble with a drive to the basket.
Hill shot 38.9 percent overall from 3-point range on his 95 attempts, which was about double the tries he took as a sophomore.
Miller said he hopes Hill won’t have to play a minute at power forward this season, able to stick at small forward, his natural position. That will require that three freshmen combine with sophomore Angelo Chol to handle the post positions, but Miller is optimistic that will be the case.
Can Hill get those same open looks while being guarded this season by more-athletic small forwards willing to defend the perimeter?
“I would hope so,” Miller said, citing the addition of three freshman post players this season.
“The more talent that we have on the court and the ability of our team to score in the low post, I just think that inevitably opens up more opportunities from the perimeter for everybody,” Miller said.
“The one thing Solomon has always done is take very good shots from the perimeter. … I would look for him to pick up right where he left off. I believe he will have a number of open shots, because we have more diversity in and around the basket and on the perimeter.”
Pondering Hill’s all-around skills, Miller identified perhaps the senior’s greatest asset:
“For someone his size, he’s comfortable handling the basketball. We rely on him in the transition game to make good decisions and good plays. Especially once we entered conference play last year, he really was very, very productive in transition.”
Other candidates for Pac-12 preseason Player of the Year include:
Cal junior guard Allen Crabbe, Washington State senior forward Brock Motum, Colorado junior forward Andre Roberson and UCLA incoming freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad (who is ineligible for the Bruins’ exhibition trip to China pending an NCAA investigation into potential improper benefits).