ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Kasey Hill nestled into one corner of Florida’s locker room Friday, huddled next to an assistant coach and started watching video. Some teammates were napping, others snacking and even a couple horsing around.
Hill was all business.
The senior has no time for anything else. This is his last chance, a final shot in the NCAA Tournament to do something really special in his college career.
Sure, Hill made the Final Four as a freshman. But he was a backup on a squad that featured Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young. This is his team, his time, his opportunity to finish an up-and-down adventure on a high note.
No. 4 seed Florida (25-8) plays fifth-seeded Virginia (23-10) in the second round of the East Region on Saturday night.
“When he’s playing well, generally, we play well,” Florida coach Mike White said.
Fortunately for the Gators, Hill might be peaking at the perfect time.
The speedy point guard has scored in double figures in 10 of Florida’s last 12 games, including four in a row. He had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists in the team’s opening-round win against East Tennessee State, the kind of complete game outsiders expect from Hill every night.
Hill never lived up to expectations, and outside winning a national championship with the fourth-seeded Gators this season, he won’t.
And he’s at peace with that.
“All that stuff is for other people to deal with,” Hill said. “They don’t know what goes on here, only I do.”
Hill was a high school sensation in nearby Umatilla, a McDonald’s All-American and can’t-miss prospect with the skills to make a difference in college and make a living in the NBA. That was the belief, at least. The reality was considerably different.
Hill endured growing pains and enough criticism that would make college quarterbacks cringe. But rather than wallow in pity, Hill embraced his weaknesses and focused on the road ahead.
“It’s definitely been a rough ride for me,” Hill said. “It’s been hard, very hard — not playing well, coaching changes, just everything. … It’s just been rough. But I’m never going to quit.
“That’s part of growth.”
While remaining a target, Hill has become one of Florida’s biggest threats.
He improved his mid- and long-range shooting, got better from the free-throw line, stepped up his defense and took on a leadership role. He even spent six or seven days a week during the offseason in the team’s practice facility, and at times, could be found there in the wee hours of the night.
“I definitely believe that this is my team,” Hill said. “I know this is my team and the guys feed off of me and I have to go out and lead.”
Hill is averaging 9.9 points, 4.6 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals — all career highs. That should be expected for a player who has started more than 90 games in his career, but he never made the drastic leap that some hoped.
“He’s been criticized a lot throughout his four years,” teammate Chris Chiozza said. “Being a high recruit like that, there’s a lot of pressure coming in. It’s not like he’s played bad. He’s been solid. Expectations for some players are out of this world. He does a good job of focusing on the game and his team and not really worry about what the fans say.”
Hill can silence naysayers by winning, and nobody would like to see that more than Hill, his coaches and teammates.
He’s certainly on the right track.
“Everybody gets frustrated when fans are talking bad about you,” Chiozza said. “He’s been so ridiculed over these four years. When he’s playing well like this, you can just see how happy he is. And that’s a huge boost for the whole team.”
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