by Kevin McPherson
2019 Arkansas commit Justice Hill (5-11 point guard, Little Rock Christian Academy, Joe Johnson Hawks) took his first official visit to Fayetteville over the weekend and came away as solid to the Hoop Hogs as ever.
“It was lit,” Hill, the multi-sport athlete who committed to Mike Anderson’s basketball program three years ago as a high school freshman, said of his visit after returning home to Little Rock on Sunday. “I had a good time getting to see my future teammates practice and spend some time with them off the court, too. And also spending time with Coach Anderson and the staff.
“I enjoyed every moment and it made me anticipate being up there in a few months even more.”
In addition to starring at LRCA as a point guard the past three seasons, Hill was used as a utility player on both offense and defense for the football Warriors as a junior in 2017 before becoming one of the most efficient and explosive playmakers in the state so far this season as a quarterback. With high-major NCAA Division 1 programs showing recruiting interest in him for both basketball and football, Hill said he’s not feeling an itch to play both once he’s a Razorback.
“Nah, hoops only,” he said.
Hill will graduate early from LRCA (at the end of the current fall semester). He plans to sign with Arkansas during the week-long NCAA early period that begins in mid-November, then the plan is to enroll early at Arkansas and start practicing with the Hogs some time in December. Although he intends to practice only and begin his 4 years of playing eligibility in 2019-20, the door is not completely closed on playing for the Hogs in the fast-approaching 2018-19 season.
“Coach Anderson, we will trust whatever he wants to do with my son,” Hill’s Dad, Dr. Fitz Hill, said of the possibility of Justice playing for Arkansas this season once he’s part of the team in the spring semester. “I’ve said that from beginning, if that’s a need for the team, because of injuries if that needs to be … I definitely wouldn’t shy away from that.”
Hill was receiving recruiting interest for basketball from UConn, Stanford, and other programs when he committed to Arkansas. In the past year, programs like Auburn, Mississippi State, Memphis, Georgetown, and Miami had indicated interest in Hill for both sports. Hill has entertained the idea of taking some football visits prior to signing with Arkansas next month, but on Sunday he seemed less inclined to do so.
“I’m not positive, probably not,” Hill said.
Hill is a strong, explosive facilitator-first point guard. His court awareness and willingness to set up teammates, speed-dribble to beat and split double teams and traps, use of hesitation moves, crossovers, and stop-and-go bursts to penetrate the lane, and “hops” to finish above the rim are all pluses in his arsenal. Playing his spring-and-summer basketball with Little Rock-based Joe Johnson Hawks the past three seasons on the nationally competitive Adidas Gauntlet grassroots basketball circuit, Hill was consistently a leader in assists and steals with the ability to score when needed, and this past season he was one of the best on-ball defenders on the Adidas circuit.
“Justice’s on-ball defense was great,” Hawks chariman Bill Ingram said of Hill back in late July at the Las Vegas Fab 48 event that wrapped up the 2018 grassroots season. “All season long, he wouldn’t let other guards turn or get by him, he had them on lock down.”
Another aspect of Hill’s time playing with the Hawks could prove to be valuable once he joins the Hogs: He developed an on-and-off-the-floor chemistry with current Hog freshmen and Hawks alums Isaiah Joe (he was Hill’s player host during this weekend’s visit), Ethan Henderson, and Desi Sills. That cultivated familiarity aside, practicing while not playing in ’18-19 would allow Hill to learn Anderson’s system, build chemistry and timing with all of his Hog teammates, and get acclimated to college life as a student-athlete.
Less than a month ago — Monday, Sept. 10, to be exact — Hill and his family hosted Anderson and associate head coach Melvin Watkins for an in-home visit, which at the time gave the Arkansas coaches a chance to go over the pros and cons of enrolling and joining the Razorbacks early.
“We talked about my plan to come up there early in December,” Hill said on Sept. 10 just after Hog coaches had left his house. “Coach (Anderson) said I’ll be the first one he’s had to come in early, and he said there are more advantages than disadvantages to it, and he encouraged it. I’m looking forward to going up there.”
Speaking from experience, former Arkansas guard Kareem Reid also believes enrolling and joining the Hogs early will benefit Hill.
“Well, it’s kind of different,” Reid said when asked to compare Hill’s situation to his first year in Fayetteville when he sat and watched the Hogs before guiding them to the Sweet 16 in his second year on campus in 1995-96. “I didn’t get a chance to practice with (the ’94-95 national runner-up Hogs), but I got to be around and learn, see games, and also get adjusted to college.
“For him (Justice Hill), I think it will be great because we are a young ball team and this will be the makeup of the team for some years to come.”
Whenever he hits the court for the first time as a Razorback, Hill believes playing both point guard and quarterback have helped him become a better competitor and leader.
“I’ve spent the majority of my time playing basketball, but I love football, too,” he said. “Being elusive, seeing teammates come open, making quick decisions — these are important in football and basketball. I’m confident playing both sports, and both have helped me get better as a player and leader.”
Basketball may have ultimately won him over, but the the prospect and intrigue of playing both sports for the Hogs has not been lost on Hill in recent months.
“I love my state, and humbled that they would even consider letting me come up there and look at playing both,” he said. “I’m blessed that God gave me the ability to play both sports at a high level.”