Ohio State women's basketball: Hill evolves into an all-around talent
Tayler Hill began at Ohio State as a slashing scorer. In later seasons, her role shifted, first to shooting guard and defensive stopper, then to three-point shooter and now, as a senior, to point guard.
Tayler Hill arrived at Ohio State in 2009 with enough press clippings from her Minnesota high-school career to paper the walls of a college dorm room.
At Minneapolis South High School, she had scored 3,888 points — a record for a girl or boy high-school player in Minnesota — and she hadn’t had to ask a teammate twice for the basketball.
Ohio State coach Jim Foster put the freshman Hill into the starting lineup of a veteran team from the outset and began fashioning the 5-foot-10 guard into something more than a scorer.
As she embarks on her senior season, Hill probably is the most complete player in the Big Ten.
Not only did she lead the conference in scoring last season at 20.4 points per game, but she also was voted by coaches onto the all-defensive team for a second time.
“I’m different, I think, as a player and a person,” Hill said. “It’s just growing. Like in high school, I didn’t have to play defense a lot. I had the ball in my hands a lot.
“In my first two years here, I had to play without the ball; I think that made me grow as a player because I had to add more to my game. But just the experience of playing the game in college helps you grow.”
For her first three seasons with the Buckeyes, Hill shared the backcourt with point guard Samantha Prahalis. The latter generally controlled the basketball, as her Big Ten career record of 901 assists would attest.
Last year, though, Hill did spell Prahalis at point guard for significant stretches; and she enters this season as the primary ball-handler for the Buckeyes.
“She has had different responsibilities every year,” Foster said. “She came to us as a very athletic slasher and was complemented with Sammy Prahalis and Brittany Johnson.
“Brittany was a great shooter, and Brittany graduated. So Tayler became our shooting guard. Sammy graduated, so she’ll be playing a significant amount of point. It gives you an indication of how varied her skill set is and how much she has improved.”
Hill, the slasher, averaged 8.5 points as a freshman. Owner of a midrange game as a sophomore, she increased the count to 12.4 per game and became a defensive stopper.
Suddenly a three-point shooter as a junior, Hill added eight points a game to her scoring average and kept up the defense.
The transformation wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch.
“You have to always put in hard work,” Hill said. “It’s not just practice time. You have to come in on your own. Sometimes you have to sacrifice going out and doing other things.
“All the things add up — my teammates, my coaches and all the hard work. And learning new roles and not just being stuck in one role is all part of it.”
Hill’s improvement is hard to hide.
“I think the main growth of her game has come on the mental side,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “She always had the physical tools. But watching her on film, I don’t know the best word for it, but maybe her swagger or her confidence has elevated her to the next level.”
The confidence comes without on-court explosions.
“She seems to me to be, night in and night out, the same,” Merchant said. “She’s always the face her team needs to see. She’s never too high or too low. She’s emotional when she needs to be. She’s special because she’s a scorer who never lets the last play affect her. That’s mental toughness.”
Hill and fellow senior guard Amber Stokes are co-captains of the 2012-13 team and its two most experienced players.
They are going to have to help the cadre of younger guards — Raven Ferguson, Maleeka Kynard, Shelbi Honeycutt, Amy Scullion, Ameryst Alston and Cait Craft — develop their games.
Passing on knowledge is part of the growth process.
“I knew when I came to college that I was going to change as a player and that this was going to happen,” Hill said. “I knew I was going to evolve into something more than a scorer or a point guard.”