Hill’s decision to come back pays off

Gilberto Manzano

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Four years ago men’s basketball head coach Bobby Braswell was in a recruiting battle with Arizona State and the University of Tulsa. They were going after Mark Hill, a 5-foot-11 point guard from John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles. But instead of staying close to home, Hill rejected Braswell’s scholarship offer and decided to go to Oklahoma to play for the Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa.

At first, it seemed Hill had made the right choice in going to Tulsa; his freshman year he led the team in assists and even got to start half the year. But things changed drastically during Hill’s sophomore year, when one of his family members passed away. At that point, he felt that he needed to be closer to home and decided to transfer to Northridge.

“I picked to go to Tulsa but the wind blew me (back towards) Northridge,” Hill said. “At the time it was just the right decision for me (to go to Tulsa). Things didn’t work out the way I planned and Coach Bras opened his arms for me and gave me an opportunity to come back and play (at Northridge). I thank him for that.”

Now a senior at Northridge, Hill is the starting point guard and wants to be one of the leaders of the team. Out on the court, he has already established himself as the captain of the ship, and if he is dishing out assists and creating fast break points, CSUN could have a solid opportunity at grabbing its third consecutive Big West title.

Last season, due to transferring rules, the NCAA didn’t clear Hill to play his first game as a Matador until Jan. 17 at Long Beach State. Hill made an impressive debut (scoring 11 points) and got more minutes than starting point guard Josh Jenkins. But during crunch time, when the game was on the line, Braswell took out Hill and went with his reliable leader Jenkins.

Coach Braswell felt that Hill was getting tired due to the fact that he hadn’t played in a game in over a year. Little did Braswell know that seven games later he would be forced to increase Hill’s playing minutes.

On Feb. 14, after the Matadors defeated UC Riverside at the Matadome, Jenkins was injured in a car accident that forced him to miss the rest of the season.
All of a sudden, all eyes were on Hill as he took over the starting point guard role.

“(Jenkins) led by example and when he went down, I just felt like I couldn’t let him down, but number one, not let the team down,” Hill said.

Hill shined as a starter, and the Matadors didn’t miss a beat, winning the Big West tournament for the second consecutive year and clinching an automatic NCAA tournament berth in the process.

Hill’s heroics had just begun. When No. 15-seeded CSUN faced No. 2 Memphis in the NCAA first round, everyone thought the Matadors were going to get blown out. But with just two minutes gone by, Hill made an early three-pointer to get the Matadors off to a hot start.

That shot made a strong statement that the Matadors weren’t going to be blown out by anybody. The Matadors and Tigers went on to exchange leads throughout the game, with Memphis finally pulling away in the final minutes for a closer-than-expected victory.

“It was a dream come true just to be there,” Hill said. “I grew up watching NCAA basketball.”

Since Hill didn’t play the first half of the season, he used that time to observe Jenkins and saw how he led the team. After having done that, he was relaxed when he took the court and didn’t feel pressure taking over the offense.

“I learned from watching Josh (Jenkins),” Hill said, “seeing the type of plays that he made, the type of things that he did, how he ran the offense, being a leader.”

With all the success Hill had last season, he has a lot of hype going into this season. Everyone is wondering what he has in store for his first full year at CSUN.

“I’m glad to have Mark (Hill) back for the whole year, instead of half,” teammate and senior guard Kenny Daniels said. “So we can see what he is going to do.”