Arizona Forward Solomon Hill gets to head home this weekend, but it won't be for Winter Break.
He will be facing UCLA on Thursday in the Wooden Classic then heading down the freeway to take on USC Sunday afternoon.
The Los Angeles native graduated from Fairfax High School, averaging 16.2 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game as a senior on a team that finished fourth in the state of California and 24th nationally.
But the two-time All-City selection and four-star recruit didn't want to stay at home for much longer. Though he grew up practically next door to two Division programs in USC and UCLA, Arizona was his first choice from the beginning.
"I always liked Arizona. I liked the way they played very up tempo," said Hill
Hill felt that leaving home was a necessary part of growing up and staying too close might lead to too many distractions. There would be no way he would be staying in Los Angeles. Arizona not only provided his preferred style of play, but enough distance that he could grow up like any normal college student. Hill arrived with Sean Miller three years ago and became a very important part of an elite program that would be experiencing some growing pains.
"Keep in mind throughout his freshman year, he started on a very young team my first year here at Arizona," said Miller.
Hill averaged 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds that year and tied for ninth on Arizona's all-time list for a freshman debut with 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists on Nov. 15 vs. Northern Arizona. The Wildcats had a mediocre season going 16-15 overall and 10-9 in conference play.
It was the first time Arizona had failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 25 years.
But the following year, Arizona started to look like its old self again when they won the Pac-10 regular season title. For the first time in 14 years, the Wildcats went unbeaten at home and carried that momentum to their first Elite Eight appearance since the 2004-05 season. Though much of that success was accredited to Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams, Miller acknowledges the large part Hill played in his sophomore year.
"He was a huge part of last year's Pac-10 Championship team where he started in every game, 38 games, and he became a better player as a sophomore," said Miller. "Not necessarily by leaps and bounds, but clearly improved."
Hill slightly improved his averages to 8.0 points and 4.7 rebounds, but nearly doubled his out-put in the double-double category posting 14 games in double figures (He had 8 his freshman year). He was second on the team in steals with 32.
Now a junior, Hill has taken a much more expanded role on the team.
"He used that experience, had a good off season and has a bigger role, obviously, on this year's team," said Miller.
"When Solomon plays well we're a much better team."
Hill earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for the second time already this season when he helped the Cats beat Oakland 85-73 with a career high 23-point contribution last week. He followed up by having 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and a block in a 100-60 point victory over Bryant University. Arizona currently stands at 10-4 after beating rival Arizona State 68-51 last Saturday.
"If you look at his rebounding and you look at his scoring and free throw percentage and assists, he does really about everything you could ask of a player for our team," said Miller. "He's much better defensively."
Currently Hill leads the team in three categories averaging 12.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists. But Miller wants to make sure that he doesn't get too hung on leading one particular category. Instead, he hopes the junior develops into a well-rounded player.
"He doesn't have to score 20 points for everyone to recognize he had a terrific game."
Hill himself feels like both him and the Cats are on the right track for another run at the conference title. He's on the same page with Miller when it comes to focusing on multiple aspects of the game. The philosophy seems to be in line with who he is.
"I just try to be the guy I need to be for my team."
Hill will need to continue to be that go-to guy this weekend. It's the first conference road trip for Arizona and the last time Arizona visited LA, the Trojans won 65-57 and the Bruins won 71-29.
"Going into this week I think we really have to concentrate on executing our game plan."
Just because Hill will be home again, doesn't mean he will have any time to get distracted.