Former NBA Coach Settles in at Fordham
By MIKE ALDAX
In in a quaint dormitory-style office hunkers Bob Hill, a tall man with a large task before him.
The former head coach of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, Hill is now at the helm of Fordham University's men's basketball team, which has struggled below the .500 mark since departing the Patriot League to join the larger, more talented Atlantic10 conference. Under Head Coach Nick Macarchuk, the Rams compiled only 10 league wins in four seasons, despite recruiting A-10 Rookie of the Year Bevon Robin, Argentinean strongman Alejandro Olivares and three-pointer phenom Jason Harris.
So why would a nationally respected basketball mentor like Hill, who has also written books and worked as a broadcast journalist, choose to ply his trade at Rose Hill, one of America's oldest gyms, where moments of grandeur have been scarce since Digger Phelps prowled the hardwood in the early 1970s? Well, of course there's the $300,000 he will receive annually for the next 10 years (not to a mention a bigger office than his predecessor), but Hill says there are many other good reasons.
"Fordham has a wonderful academic reputation," Hill says. "It's based in a powerful city with access to all sorts of financial links like Wall Street and the corporate world. Most importantly, you are exposed to a city filled with talented recruits only a subway ride away."
Hill says Fordham's attributes make it easy for him to prepare his boys for their future, whether it involves basketball or not. But creating a team profitable for the university will prove to be an entirely different ball game for Hill. The year Robin, Harris, and Olivares were recruited, many basketball analysts applauded Fordham for having the top freshman class in the A-10s. But despite improvements, the Rams still haven't found their groove. The team flirted with a .500 standing through the 1998-9 season, but Fordham fans have become skeptical that the players can live up to the hype.
Justin Boyer, a graduate student in business administration at Fordham, complains that his excitement over the team's movement to the A-10s and the signing of talented recruits was shattered by the Rams' poor performance. "I'm an avid basketball fan," Boyer says, "and I don't see how this team is going to improve if they can't win games with good players."
Hill has a very different idea of how basketball games are won and lost, how good players become great and how a team can rise in the rankings. "Basketball is not a game of one or two guys," he says. "It's a game where everyone taking part must understand their role, accept their role, and embrace their role so that they can make possible future professional players like Olivares, Robin, and Harris even better." Hill recognizes that nationally known athletes like Elton Brand of Duke wouldn't have become first-round draft picks if they didn't have the support of their teammates.
Every fan is dying to know whether Hill can get the Rams to play competitively against nationally ranked basketball organizations like Duke, Indiana, and Xavier within the next few years. Hill would like nothing more, but he won't make any predictions.
"It wouldn't be very smart for me to make any promises," Hill says. "People overlook the fact that things don't always go the way they are planned. Sometimes significant players get injured, something you can never be prepared for. It's a part of sports. We could even start winning earlier than expected. You never know."
Hill knows what strides his team must make in order to be in contention for a tournament appearance, a feat last accomplished during Fordham's 1991-2 campaign (when they were still in the Patriot League). His only plan is to teach the game he loves to kids that share his passion.
"As long as the kids work hard and strive for improvement, the wins will follow," Hill says.
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