Grant Hill talks Duke, broadcasting, life after basketball

Jeremy Brevard—USA TODAY Sports
Duke Blue Devils former basketball player Grant Hill is introduced during the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Wallace Wade Stadium Durham

Grant Hill literally flew onto the scene at Duke, helping the Blue Devils to their first national title under Mike Krzyzewski with a thundering tomahawk jam against Kansas in the national title game. He would go on to become one of the best players in the history of a very storied program.Hill’s pro career was derailed by injury — had he stayed healthy he was on track to become a Hall of Fame-caliber NBA player — but he’s found success as a broadcaster with CBS Sports, flying up the depth chart to help Jim Nantz host the Final Four each year.The North State Journal spoke to Hill following his induction into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame about the best Duke teams and life in “retirement.”NSJ: You went into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame with Shane Battier. Even though he played at Duke a decade after you, how well do you know each other?Grant Hill: Shane is unique, within the basketball family. I’ve probably known him the longest. I knew him back in his Detroit days. He was in high school when I played with the Pistons. He was, maybe, a sophomore when we first met, and he used to wear Duke sweatshirts all over the place. You didn’t see that much in Michigan at that time. Just to watch him become a great player, it’s a great feeling. We both got a chance to be honored and recognized. To share that with him was really special.NSJ: Shane said the 2001 Duke team would have beaten yours. What’s your opinion?GH: “Well, we have three guys in the college basketball Hall of Fame. How many guys do they have? That’s the competitive rivalry I think that all of us have. For us, when we were here the standard that we were chasing was the 1986 team (which made the NCAA title game). That team, obviously, like every team, has a special place in Coach K’s heart. That’s what we were constantly compared to. We wanted to outdo them by winning a championship. We always thought we could beat them. That’s the beauty of the legacy that’s been established here. There are a lot of great teams. It’s always great to play that game. Who would beat who? Who’s the best? I’m pretty confident that we would’ve found a way to beat them. We’d have neutralized Jason Williams, and we would’ve maintained Shane. We had some weapons too.”NSJ: What has changed with Coach K’s program since you left, and what hasn’t?GH: A lot of the basic tenets are the same. I think coach’s philosophy, his approach, his style in terms of establishing relationships with players, being able to connect and resonate with young men. I think the process has become more accelerated, because players leave earlier now. You don’t have the chance to get to know guys over the span of four years. You don’t have the chance to have freshmen learning from upperclassmen. Sometimes, your freshmen are the most talented players. So I think things are similar, but things are also very very different. I think that’s really a credit to Coach K. A lot of great leaders, great coaches, can get stuck in their ways. His ability to adapt and adjust over the course of 35 years is unheard of. Today’s modern teenager is a lot different than teenagers in the late 80s. I experienced it a little bit in terms of the NBA. Playing almost 20 years, you saw different cultures, different generations entering into the NBA, and trying to figure out how to connect with that generation could be problematic. But he seems to have mastered it. I just marvel at his longevity and how he’s been able to stay the same in some respects but also adapt and adjust over the years.NSJ: How do you enjoy doing TV?It’s fun. I like working with Steve Smith. Surprisingly, everyone mistakes us for each other. He lives in Atlanta, and I’m in Atlanta a lot. I’ve been called Smitty a lot of times. People come up to me and say, “Hey Spart-dog,” for Michigan State, and vice versa for him. I look forward to bringing him to Cameron. this year, when Duke plays Michigan State. We thought about changing outfits and seeing if we could fool everybody. But I enjoy TV. It’s an opportunity to stay engaged with the game. It’s the closest thing to playing, in some respects, because you prepare. You dive into the details. You have access. You have to be engaged throughout the game, moreso than as a casual spectator. The good thing is you don’t have to worry about getting hurt or who wins or loses. I enjoy it. It’s fun. I have the best seat in the house. An opinion can never be wrong. I do get this rush before the game. The national anthem is the closest I feel to being a player. Before the game starts, that nervousness, that excitement, that anticipation for what’s to come.NSJ: How hard is that transition from player to retirement?”When you play and you commit yourself to sports and have a long career, when you’re done, it takes a minute to figure things out. I’m still trying to figure it out. I’ve got TV. I’m an owner with the Hawks. I do some private equity. You’re still trying to figure out the next big thrill that can replace what you did on the court. You’ve got to try a lot of things to find out what you like and don’t like, what you’re good at. I’m still trying to figure it out.”NSJ: Do you have any interest in coaching?GH: My daughter plays basketball now. We did the whole AAU circuit this summer. It was fun. I enjoyed it. It’s a little different than when I was coming up. To see these young ladies give their all, play so hard and be committed to this dream they’re pursuing reminded me of when me and my contemporaries were doing it. The challenge though is you feel like you’ve learned a great deal through the years and so many experiences, so many things I’ve witnessed or done myself. You want to be able to share that information with others. You want to pass it on. My daughter doesn’t listen to me. She thinks I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just Dad. So I’m not an overbearing parent when it comes to basketball. I’m very cognizant of not putting pressure, not feeling like she has to live up to anyone, live up to Dad or what have you. Once in a blue moon, I’ll offer some insight, and she’ll look at me like it’s the dumbest thing she’s ever heard.NSJ: You had experience on the other side, growing up with a pro athlete as a dad.There’s obviously pressure, because your father was a pro athlete. There’s an expectation that whatever you do that’s athletic, whether it’s the presidential fitness award or dodgeball in gym class, you’ll be good at it. I didn’t play the same sport, so I think I was able to sort of carve out my own path, my own lane, which I think was a good thing, but it bothered me for a period of time in middle school and high school, just trying to sort of step out from under my dad’s shadow and be recognized for me. I think that’s just part of adolescence. You’re trying to find yourself, your voice and so forth. I’ve kind of lived it similar fashion. So I try to just be dad. I try to support, try to answer any questions she might have, just try to be there for her and be her biggest fan. Once every two months, I’ll offer a suggestion and get shot down. As long as she’s having fun and wants to do it, instead of feeling like she has to do it, I’m all for it.