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Post Falls’ Hill blossomed into elite basketball player

When Connor Hill started his first varsity basketball game as a freshman, he was 5-foot-6 and 115 pounds.

To say the Post Falls High senior has blossomed since then is an understatement. He’s now 6-2 and 180, and he’s leaning toward accepting a preferred walk-on offer from Washington State University.

“All I could do as a freshman was shoot 3-pointers,” Hill said, acknowledging his physical limitations.

He started shooting 3-pointers and hasn’t let up. In that first game, which was against then No. 1-ranked Coeur d’Alene, he made four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.

“I was playing out of my mind,” Hill said.

Coeur d’Alene took exception to Hill’s exploits. He remembers being shoved well out of bounds by a CdA player who was trying to send him a message.

Then at halftime he got a stern message from his coach, Mike McLean.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to stand your ground. Don’t let anyone push you around.’ That’s when I realized I’ve got to get tougher,” Hill said.

Hill has grown up before McLean’s eyes.

“Every year he has gotten physically bigger. His body’s just matured,” McLean said. “His first year he could just shoot 3-pointers. His second year he was coming off screens, catching and shooting. He was a zone buster. Last year he started shooting off the dribble and taking it to the basket. This year he can go down the lane and finish above the rim. His progression each year has been phenomenal.”

His best asset, though, is shooting – and shooting from long range.

He gets a lot of practice, especially since he has his own gym at home. Two years ago, his father bought property on the Spokane River and had a gym built separate from their home. The width is the same as a regulation court, but the length is about 10 feet short of regulation.

During the season, Hill puts in extra shooting time before games and at least three nights a week after practice.

He estimates his record for consecutive 3-pointers made at his gym is about 18. The most consecutive made 3-pointers in a game is seven.

Hill has come out shooting this year for the reigning Idaho 5A state champion Trojans. He’s averaging 24 points and was especially effective in wins over Shadle Park, Mead and Ferris. His season high came last Saturday when he had 28 against Ferris, which was picked to win the Greater Spokane League championship.

He’s gone from having little jumping ability to getting about 20 dunks during play last summer.

Hill credits his increased strength and quickness to having worked with Gonzaga University strength specialist Mike Nilson.

“I think Connor is probably the fastest athlete in North Idaho and maybe even the Spokane area,” McLean said.

While Hill will likely lead the Trojans in scoring this season, McLean points out that Hill isn’t about statistics.

“He’s team first,” McLean said. “If we need him to be the distributor, he will be. He’s a shooting guard, but he’ll spend quite a bit of time at the point, too.”

That’s just fine with Hill.

“I want to get my teammates involved as much as I can,” Hill said.

Hill grew up in Nine Mile Falls, Wash., but his family moved to Post Falls when he was in sixth grade.

When Hill was much younger, he attended some WSU games.

“It was always my dream to play at WSU,” Hill said. “To play in the Pac-10 is the best you can play.”

Hill’s first year on varsity was also McLean’s first year as head coach. To Hill, it’s no secret why the Trojans won a state title last year and will challenge again this season.

“He’s definitely turned the program around,” Hill said. “He works us pretty hard, but it all pays off because we’re good and we win.”

Hill isn’t satisfied with one state title.

“We definitely have the guys and the talent to win it again,” Hill said. “This year’s team can be just as good as last year’s team if we work hard and everyone contributes.”

Hill has scored 737 points and should crack the 1,000-point milestone this season.

“Colleges are scrambling now wondering how they missed him,” McLean said. “He can definitely play at the (NCAA) Division I level. His athleticism has just taken off.”