OU basketball: How Jalen Hill's Las Vegas background molded him into being vital to Sooners' success
Growing up in Las Vegas, Jalen Hill was a bit different than most of the players who wind up playing big-time college basketball.
While plenty of players who end up on the big stage started off as the top players on their teams, Hill had to grind it out when he was getting started.
“I wasn’t the best on my team when I first started,” said Hill, now a sophomore forward for No. 12 OU. “So just doing the little things when I was younger (was important) and now even to this day, it’s just keeping doing those things and keep working hard and then the moment will come when I’ll shine.”
Hill has shined at various moments for the Sooners, and OU coach Lon Kruger is hoping he’ll have another when the Sooners play at No. 14 West Virginia on Saturday (noon, ESPN+).
“Extremely important,” Kruger said of Hill’s contributions to this point “Not all of it shows up in the box score. He’s always talking defensively, communicating. He’s always in the right spot defensively. He’s blocking out every time. He doesn’t always get the rebound but he doesn’t give up rebounds either.”
Hill’s defensive versatility has been one of the biggest factors of his impact.
“He’s one of the most versatile players in the country,” said guard Elijah Harkless. “He can guard one through five. He can score on anybody. Some of the stuff might not show up on the stat sheet, but he’s a great team guy. He never complains. He works hard.”
More and more, though, Hill’s contributions are showing up in the box score.
- Related to this story
- Article: Tramel: OU basketball's Elijah Harkless latest example of Lon Kruger's coaching acumen
- Article: OU basketball: Sooners vs. West Virginia tops this weekend's Big 12 slate missing Baylor
- Article: OU at West Virginia men's basketball: How to watch livestream, game time, lineups
- Video: OU Basketball: Sooners defeat Iowa State at home
In the season’s first nine games, Hill averaged 3.7 points per game off the bench before being held out for two games due to COVID-19 contact tracing protocol.
Since returning, Hill’s offensive production has surged. He’s averaging 7.8 points per game.
In last Saturday’s win over Iowa State, Hill scored a career-high 11 points, seven in a four-minute span late in the second half where the Sooners grabbed the lead for good.
“I think we’ll see that continue throughout his career, increased scoring ability,” Kruger said of Hill’s recent production increase.
But don’t expect Hill to stop doing the things that got him playing time in the first place.
He ticks off the names of the big-time recruits he’s played with that helped him develop comfort with being a role player, making most of his contributions defensively.
There’s Jaden Hardy, one of the top recruits in the 2021 class. Troy Brown Jr. played at Oregon for a year and is in his third season with the Washington Wizards. Julian Strawther plays for top-ranked Gonzaga. Josh Christopher is Arizona State’s second-leading scorer as a freshman. Julian Strawther is playing for top-ranked Gonzaga.
“I’ve grown up playing with five-star recruits and other guys that are highly ranked and (I’ve) just seen how I want to get to the next level and play pro in the future,” Hill said. “It helps me with my role now just knowing that later on in my career that I’m going to be a star. I’m going to shine when my time comes as long as I keep working.”
And Hill isn’t about to put a cap on how far the Sooners can go.
“We have a chance to go really far,” Hill said. “I really feel like with this team we can go to the championship game, Final Four, championship game and just everybody on this team is bought in to working, bought into the coaches. We’re just one big family.”
Ryan Aber covers OU athletics, especially football. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ryaber. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.