THE ROOKIE (in name only): Freshman Collin Hill provides the final piece to the Hawks state-tournament puzzle

JEWELL – South Hamilton was in trouble … serious, serious trouble.

After building a 26-20 advantage on Fort Dodge St. Edmond in the first minute of the third quarter, the Hawks suddenly couldn’t buy a bucket during last week’s Class 2A substate game inside the Webster City High School gymnasium.

For more than six minutes they came up empty as one shot after another clanged off the rim. The Gaels smelled blood and promptly reeled off 12 consecutive points to jump into the driver’s seat.

South Hamilton desperately needed someone to play with ice water in his veins, otherwise the Hawks would be nothing more than state tournament spectators for a 24th consecutive year.

And that’s when the freshman took over.

A 3-pointer from the wing hushed the St. Edmond crowd, and 45 seconds later another bomb – this time from the corner – not only tied the game, but righted the ship.

And the rest is history; sweet, sweet history.

Collin Hill, the aforementioned freshman, is no stranger to big-time competition, which is precisely why he’s been just what South Hamilton needed to take that next step this season.

The Hawks were good last season, there’s no doubt about that. But Hill – the team’s leading scorer at 16.8 points per game – was the piece they needed to make that postseason push to reach the state tournament for the first time in 23 years.

“I expected to come in and help the team as much as I could and these guys have been great,” Hill said. “They want me to shoot the ball when I’m open and score. It’s been great.”

Hill may very well of had a basketball situated next to him in his crib. He began playing on the AAU circuit in the third grade and eventually became a member of the All-Iowa Attack – a premier organization that has provided Hill with the opportunity to showcase his skills at tournaments all across the country.

“I’ve played really good competition and benefitted from it,” Hill, who at 6-foot-4 looks like anything but a freshman, said. “All of the basketball I’ve played has helped me … some freshmen probably have nerves and stuff, but I have the confidence in myself and it’s just all played out perfectly.”

South Hamilton senior Ross Enderson knew Hill could shoot after seeing him around at open gyms over the summer, but he had no idea the impact that his new teammate would have once the season began.

And Enderson has no complaints.

“I knew he was a good player because we’d see him in open gyms and I thought he’d be a good 3-point shooter for us,” Enderson said. “But as you can see he can do everything.”

Yes he can.

Hill has no problem cranking it up from distance. He’s quick and strong enough to take it to the bucket as well, and his superior leaping ability makes him a nightmare for opposing teams if they don’t put a body on him.

And his defense, yeah, he can do that, too. Oftentimes he gets the assignment to shut down the opposition’s leading scorer.

“Collin is a nice surprise to see him come out like that,” Andrew Wintermote, another senior on the roster, said. “He’s really come into his own.”

Chemistry is oh-so important on the basketball floor, which is why bringing in a new player can sometimes be disruptive.

Would the veterans accept Hill? Would they embrace his talents, or would they resent his ascent at the expense of their own minutes?

South Hamilton head coach B.J. Terrones never had to worry about the potential pitfalls. Hill never asked for or expected preferential treatment; he simply let his play do the talking.

“I think that’s one of the things that the older group respected,” Terrones said. “At no point in time did he come in with the expectation that everything was going to be given to him. He worked for every minute that he got, just like every player on the team. And he’s learned a lot from these older players, too. I think he’s very lucky as a freshman to be able to come in and learn from these players.”

“There are a lot of people that really don’t want to accept guys, but these guys have been great,” Hill said of his teammates. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play with.”

Hill is no different than anyone else on the team when you cut to the core. His dream of what could possibly happen this week is similar to the rest of his teammates.

But he could care less if he’s the biggest contributor, or just a role player.

“I don’t really care that much about my stats because we’re a team,” he said. “I want to win a state championship of course. I don’t care (how it happens), as long as we win.”

He already plays like a seasoned veteran. He carries himself like one, too.