Grant Hill is no stranger to March Madness. As a member of the Duke Blue Devils in the early 1990s, Hill won two national championships. The seven-time All-Star, who was recently inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, is now an analyst for Turner Sports and has been calling NCAA Tournament games.
HoopsHype caught up with Hill to speak on college ball, his weekend picks, who deserves the NBA MVP and more.
Sunday’s Duke loss must’ve been tough for you. What were your thoughts on the game?
Grant Hill: It was a great game and it’s not the first time I’ve broadcasted a Duke game. You get lost during the game and as a broadcaster, your responsibility is to really dive into preparation and try to learn about each team and their personalities individually and playing style. You try to figure out what does this one team need to do to win? When you’re in that moment, you’re just lost – almost like you go to the Final Four and see these kids playing on this stage and look what’s at stake – and think how can they concentrate and stay focused with all these people watching. The truth of the matter is just you’re lost in the game. It’s no different than playing at the park at open gym with no one there watching. You’re lost in the moment. I think the same can be said of broadcasting. Even when you have a team that you’re connected to or have ties to … I think, for me, I was like, ‘Wow this is a great game,’ and there was a lot of crazy plays on both sides and it’s going into overtime. I think instantly when the game was over, we witnessed something pretty special. When the game’s over, it would’ve been nice to see Duke get to the Final Four and see them have an opportunity with the team and the talent. The thing about broadcasting is you get to know the kids and coaches, and you pull for them. You want to see them do well. We have tremendous access with our broadcast room and the Kansas story – a guy like Devonte Graham. We did their game two years ago when they were the national champions in 2016 and just the heartbreak of losing in the Elite Eight two years in a row. And to come back in their third year it’s a good story. Believe it not, I even like the [North] Carolina kids from the last couple of years. It’s an interesting perspective that you have in broadcasting.
What’s been the best part of the NCAA Tournament for you?
GH: This year, we’ve had some great games. From the first day all the way to the Duke game. That’s the most important thing is you want to have good games that you can call. I do think getting a chance to meet the kids and coaches, so usually on that weekend, we get a chance to spend time with the starting lineups and the coaches. You see kids [from] Kansas State kids to North Carolina to Kansas – that is fun. You get to learn their personalities and who’s the joker and personal stories. That is one of the most exciting times for me. It’s complete madness, but it’s just the wonderful spirit about it and it’s fun to be a part of. There’s a lot of things to enjoy but the fun, enjoyable part is meeting the kids and the coaches.
What was one of your favorite memories from the Big Dance?
GH: I was talking to my wife yesterday and we were talking about the tournament and she was asking me how many games did I play in. In four years, you have to play six games in order to win. In three years, we got to the championship game and lost my junior year in the second round. So I played in 20 tournament games out of 24. That’s pretty special and I was fortunate to have some memorable moments. Obviously, the Kentucky game and the championships … and just the times with my teammates in the hotel, bus, practice – those are things that you kind of remember. I do remember the games, but you hold onto those experiences.
I do have a favorite moment. We were in ’94 and we had won the Sweet Sixteen against Marquette and we watched Purdue play Kansas and we were playing the winner the next day. Glenn “Big Dog” [Robinson], who was Player of the Year, had 30 points against Kansas in the first half and he put on one of the most spectacular performances ever in an NCAA Tournament. We said, ‘Wow, we have to guard this guy.’ The next night, my roommate Cherokee Parks was getting me all hyped up. We were in the hallway doing defensive slides in anticipation in the next day when I had to guard Big Dog and play against Purdue. Fortunately, we beat Purdue, went to the Final Four and did a good job collectively containing him. That moment where we’re in the hallway doing defensive slides where [Cherokee] was getting me hyped up. Things like that you remember are just as important and meaningful as the cutting down the nets and championships.
Who are your picks for this weekend?
GH: That’s really, really tough. This Loyola-Chicago team is pretty special and they’re really good. After watching all of their tournament and conference tournament games and preparation this week, there’s a reason why they’re here. They have multiple guys who can score, create shots. They stick to what they do and they do. They stick to what they do and they’re tough. There’s a collective toughness about them. They haven’t seen a Michigan and this team … has really stepped it up on the defensive end and they defend. It’s hard to say, but I would probably say Michigan advances, but I’ve learned not to go against Sister Jean and the folks at Loyola-Chicago. In the second matchup, that Kansas-Villanova game features two perimeter-oriented teams. They shoot a lot from the three. I don’t know. I’m not good with predictions or nothing. Part of what we do, you learn about each of the teams and you want to see both teams do well. It’s hard to sort of pick. I’m not good at that. I think the Kansas-Villanova and Loyola-Chicago-Michigan game can go either way. They’re that good. We have three blue bloods that are all really good teams, great offensive teams and good defensive teams as well. Then we have this Cinderella that’s tough and plays exciting basketball and has a tremendous mind process that made it to the Final Four. If we’ve learned anything the Final Four, it’s that anything can and will happen.
With the NBA playoffs near, who do you have going to Finals?
GH: It’s hard to say. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland has struggled before and even after the trades and they’re just not clicking like they have in years past. The one consistent thing is LeBron. He’s played at the high level … there’s a question mark with Cleveland. Boston was off to a good start and Kyrie [Irving] kind of was hurt there and there’s a big question mark even with a healthy Kyrie. Toronto … they’ve been playing more people and haven’t historically done well in the postseason. In years past, Cleveland sort of steamrolled the competition through the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. Now you don’t know. In the West, Golden State with [Stephen] Curry out; the mental, emotional and physical fatigue of playing a long season the last few years. Is Houston for real? Are they ready to emerge? I kind of like this year’s postseason possibilities.
In your opinion, is James Harden a lock for MVP?
GH: I think so. I think the MVP race is always generated from early in the year. The way Houston got off to a great start [and] are consistent. It’s almost like last year with [Russell] Westbrook. I think he won it in December with that momentum and he continued with that all season. I think Harden has done that in a different way this year. As a runner-up last year, this year I think he’s been great and Houston is playing at a high level.
You recently came out in Pizza Hut’s Pie Tops commercial. Did you ever think that someone would be able to order pizza through sneakers?
GH: Last year, we did the ad … I never thought in a million years that that would be possible. It was really cool. I had a pair of last year’s shoes and I had the ability to order a pair of pizza on my shoes, which is the most amazing thing ever. And the great thing about the pizza and Pie Tops this year is – being a style guy – I think they look better in different colors with the red and wheat color. But now, not only can you order pizza on them from your local pizza hut location but you can also attach it to your cable box and pause the TV while you’re ordering so you don’t miss not one second of the games. I think that’s like even more amazing. Kudos to Pizza Hut and all those technology specialists that certainly improved last year’s Pie Tops because this year I think they’re blowing outside the box.