NORFOLK—For Old Dominion, the past couple of weeks have been a bit like Christmas and a bit like the cavalry arriving to aid the undermanned troops.
When Donte Hill and Richard Ross became eligible after the fall semester, they immediately found their way into the playing rotation. And while coaches and teams prefer continuity to mid-season lineup juggling, no one turns down capable and productive additions.
"It changes our team dynamic and our depth," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said. "Quite honestly, we had some players pressed into action before, that (Hill and Ross) are kind of pushing past, and that's a good thing. Our reservoir of energy and emotion is just a little larger."
Hill and Ross have played the past three games and will be counted on throughout, beginning with Friday's test against unbeaten and No. 8 Missouri at the Ted.
"It's been exciting," Hill said, "but it's also been an adjustment period. I'm just trying to get used to actually playing. I think the first couple of games I was a little bit too excited, too ready to go. I think I'm a little more relaxed and I'm working into my role."
Hill, a 6-foot-4 guard from Virginia Beach, averages 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Ross, a 6-5 wing from Wichita Falls, Texas, averages 5.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Both average at least 19 minutes per game, with Ross logging 30 minutes in last week's overtime loss at Richmond.
"It's been very rewarding," Ross said. "I know I made some mistakes last semester and I tried to work pretty hard to get back, and now that I'm with my team, it's kind of a dream come true."
Hill sat out a year after transferring from Clemson and has 2 1/2 years remaining. Ross, who redshirted last season as a freshman, was academically ineligible the first semester and had to fulfill schoolwork requirements before he was permitted to play.
"It was frustrating," he said, "but I couldn't really be upset about it because I brought it on myself. I looked at it as a minor setback, so I just had to get through it."
Hill is a capable defender and shooter who can handle the ball a bit and is strong enough to be effective in traffic. Ross is a spectacular athletic talent who is more energetic than polished at this stage.
"Richard's what I call a 'tryer,'|" Taylor said. "He's going to try like hell, and there's going to be a little bit of collateral damage, but at the end of the long haul he's going to keep going at it. I'd rather coach somebody that's going hard than somebody I'm begging to compete."
Both are adjusting to their roles and what's required. Ross said that he views his role as simply to defend, rebound and play hard.
Hill said he's trying to be what he called a "glue guy" -- someone who does a little of everything. He said the coaches have told him, "Just be solid. Don't try to do too much, especially early on. Just try to do the simple things that'll help us get wins."
In last week's 81-73 win against VMI, Hill scored nine of his 11 points in the first half. He provided a spark and some offensive stability when the feel of the game, if not the pace, was more to VMI's liking. He also grabbed nine rebounds, including four on the offensive end.
"I think Donte makes life a little bit easier on some of the other guys," Taylor said. "They were trying to bring home the bacon and they were looking around for somebody else to help haul it."
Indeed, Hill provides a perimeter complement to Kent Bazemore, Trian Iliadis, Dimitri Batten and regular point guard Marquel De Lancey. Nine boards demonstrate that he's also a help to leading rebounder Chris Cooper, reed-thin Nick Wright and Ross, who grabbed eight rebounds before fouling out in the Richmond loss.
"Donte brings a lot to the table -- defensively, offensively, he's a good playmaker," Ross said. "He can create for himself and others. He's just tough, one of those tough people who does whatever it takes to get the job done."
Said Hill: "The young guys have had to play big minutes and now, they're still going to have to play, but they get to watch a little bit more and see and pick up things. They're learning. We're all learning. I think it helps a lot."