Standing only about 6-feet tall with a build that can generously be described as ‘slight’ at 160 pounds, it was probably easy for opposing players to focus on Jody Hill‘s lack of size. If they focused on it for even an instant, though, they probably got scored on. Actually, they probably got scored on even if they weren’t focused on it.
Hill, who was a NJCAA All-American selection after averaging 25.4 points per game as a sophomore at Delta College, became one of the country’s most prolific scorers this season, briefly even leading all NJCAA Division II players in the nation in scoring. His talent for scoring the ball is only his second best attribute as a player, though. He’s one of the toughest players Delta coach Lonnie Griffin has been around.
“The thing that stands out the most about Jody is just his toughness,” Griffin said. “When I was a student assistant at Eastern Michigan, we had a player there, Earl Boykins, who was smaller than everyone else, but he just had this toughness and fearlessness on the court. He just had a mindset that it didn’t matter how big he was, he just wasn’t afraid to go at anyone, and Jody’s similar to that.”
There are numerous instances of Hill displaying that fearlessness, but perhaps his most famous as a JUCO player came in a regional semi-final game against Henry Ford Community College in 2011. Hill attempted to drive into traffic, but there was an impediment, and no small one — Henry Ford’s Terrance Tubbs, a talented 6-foot-5 forward built more like a defensive lineman than a basketball player, stood in Hill’s path to the basket. Hill didn’t hesitate and went up and dunked over Tubbs in a game where Delta upset the favored Hawks.
“I think that was his defining moment, that dunk on Tubbs,” Griffin said.
Hill, on the other hand, explains that play the same way he does the dozens of other amazing plays he’s made on a basketball court.
“The biggest muscle in your body is the heart,” Hill said.
Hill’s work at Delta paid off. He recently committed to Livingstone College in North Carolina. He’ll have a comfortable Michigan contingent there when he arrives, too — his former Delta backcourt mate A.J. Thomas plays at Livingstone and James Johnson from Jackson Community College recently committed there as well. That familiarity played a role in his decision, but it wasn’t the only factor. After being a big part of helping Delta’s program grow into one of the better JUCO programs in Michigan the last two years, Hill wants to have that same impact at Livingstone.
“I’ve always wanted to go places where I can help turn things around, help them win,” Hill said. “I’ve also always wanted to go to an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). I went on a visit there and liked it and they just seemed really interested in me.”
Griffin thinks that the presence of Thomas, a point guard, will help Hill. Hill had to score so much this season because Delta lost several key players from last season’s regional finalist team, so Hill had to shoulder a heavier offensive burden as other players gained experience. A playmaker like Thomas, as well as some of Livingstone’s other incoming talent, should take some pressure off of Hill.
“I think he’ll be an all-conference player there,” Griffin said. “Hooking back up with A.J. at point guard there, that will really help make Jody better and help him get shots easier.”
Hill will also take with him his trademark toughness, something that was instilled in him at a young age, playing against older and bigger family and friends his entire life who initially doubted his abilities before he eventually won them over and proved he could overcome his size disadvantages and compete.
“I’m used to playing with my cousins, with older guys, since I was a kid,” said Hill, a Ferndale graduate. “They used to say I was too small or that I couldn’t hang with them, so I’ve always just had to go out and prove myself.”
In a story by Bay City Times writer Lee Thompson earlier this year, Hill also mentioned how his father encouraged and helped him work on his game. From the story:
“My dad would take me to the gym and just let me shoot, and he’d get every rebound,” said Hill, who bears the same name as his father. “He used to tell me ‘I’ll work on my passing. You shoot until you can shoot no more.’”
A strong work ethic on the court has long been a part of Hill’s makeup. At Delta, he added maturity to that strong work ethic.
“When I first got to Delta, there were times I was probably a little uncoachable,” Hill said. “I became a man at Delta, I learned how to become a leader.”
Griffin notes that part of Hill’s growth at Delta came from being asked to do multiple things during his career. As a freshman, he was often a third or fourth option and more of a spot-up shooter on an experienced team with several weapons. As a sophomore on a very inexperienced team, Hill had to both score in bunches and create offense for himself and others for Delta to have its best chance to win.
“He really did it all for us,” Griffin said. “Early this season, he had to score more for us. But as guys gained more experience, I was able to go to him and ask him to start getting other guys involved more, and he did that. Jody is all about winning. Him scoring was just a byproduct of that giving us the best chance to win this season. But he’d do whatever it took for us to win.”
Both Hill and Griffin believe that the high level of competition in Michigan JUCO basketball was great preparation for the next step in Hill’s career.
“With the number of guys from different schools going on to four-year schools this year, with a team from our conference winning that national title, that just really says a lot about our conference as a whole,” Griffin said. “And I’m just really proud of Jody. He’s my first two-year player to go on to a four-year school, and that’s our main goal here, to get these kids opportunities to play at four-year schools.”
“I think the competition in Michigan JUCO is better than a lot of four-year schools see,” Hill said. “We have so much talent. I feel like I competed in the best JUCO conference in the nation this season.”
As for his goals at Livingstone, they’re pretty similar to what they always were at Delta.
“I just want to win,” Hill said. “A successful season will be us winning the CIAA Tournament.”