Spartans' Hill gets to point and likes it


SAN ANTONIO - His role may be fuzzy, but Chris Hill's play has been sharp.

The 6-foot-3 sophomore is the only Michigan State starter who's averaging in double figures. The Spartans are renowned for their rugged style, but Hill gets most of his 14.0 points beyond the three-point arc.

On paper he's a point guard, but Alan Anderson, a small forward with a large voice, is just as likely to get Michigan State into its half-court offense.

It all adds to a very difficult scouting job for Maryland, the Spartans' opponent in tonight's South Region semifinal at the Alamodome.

Whereas Gary Williams has put the same guy in the driver's seat since November 1999, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has won despite instability at the point.

When Steve Blake was a freshman, the Spartans won the national championship because David Thomas did an admirable job as Mateen Cleaves nursed a stress fracture. The Spartans returned to the Final Four in 2001, as veteran Charlie Bell moved to the point because ace freshman Marcus Taylor wasn't ready for the job.

Bell and Taylor both struggled at the point last year, and when the latter made an ill-advised decision to turn pro - he's with the Sioux Falls Skyforce in the CBA - Izzo turned to Hill. As a freshman, he averaged 11.5 points for a team that lost to N.C. State in the first round of the NCAAs, but Izzo, who said "I need people who are going to drag the team along with them," has had to coax him into being a vocal leader.

"It's definitely not in my nature," Hill said. "I haven't gotten all the way to where Coach wants me to be, but I have made improvements.

"I've made a conscious effort to make myself heard. To get to where we want to go, someone's got to do it, and I'm willing to take on that responsibility.

"The transition has been difficult, but playing the point has made me a better player. I know it is something that will help my game down the road. I have been willing, and still am, to do anything my team needs me to for us to win."

A native of Indianapolis, Hill is an Academic All-American who quarterbacked his high school football team, turned his back on a promising baseball career and carries a single-digit handicap in golf.

He's a jack of all trades and master of the three-pointer, as Syracuse discovered Feb. 23, when Hill set a Big Ten Conference record with 10 threes at the Carrier Dome in a one-point loss.

Three days later in East Lansing, Hill went 0-for-6 from long distance in a win over Minnesota, and it's been that kind of season.

In late January, he was benched for four games because of defensive deficiencies, which were not a problem last Saturday, when Hill and Michigan State forced second-seeded Florida's perimeter players into a dismal shooting performance.

It was the Spartans' seventh win in their past eight games.

"A big part of our improved play and chemistry has been our guard play," Izzo said. "Chris Hill has done some tremendous things for us. We've put him in a tough position. We've been moving him around, and playing the point is something he hadn't had to do before.

"We are still asking him to be our leading scorer and he's made tremendous strides. He's having a great year, and will be even better next year."

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