Two Junes ago, Spurs guard George Hill sat in the clubhouse of his apartment complex in Indianapolis, surrounded by friends and family, wondering if he had made the biggest mistake of his life.
He had renounced his final year of eligibility at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) to enter the NBA draft. As he was watching the names of lucky draftees scroll past on the TV screen before him, Hill allowed himself a moment of doubt.
“Twenty goes past, and you don't hear your name,” Hill said. “You start to wonder, ‘Did I make a mistake?'”
Derrick Rose, Hill's counterpart tonight at the AT&T Center, had no such draft-day worries in 2008. The only moment of doubt he might have had likely involved which suit to wear for his photo-op with David Stern.
As expected, the Chicago Bulls made the one-year wonder from Memphis the No. 1 overall pick. Twenty-five selections later, with substantially less fanfare, the Spurs finally put Hill out his misery.
One went No. 1 as a “can't miss” future star. The other went No. 26 as a “who's that?” flier.
A season and a half later, the Bulls are getting everything they could want out of Rose, last year's Rookie of the Year and an All-Star in the making. The Spurs, meanwhile, are getting more than they bargained for from Hill, who snuck into the starting lineup at shooting guard three games ago and is poised to remain there a while.
“He's beginning to come into his own,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose team is looking to stop a two-game skid. “He contributes at both ends of the floor and is getting smarter all the time.”
Hill, 23, is averaging 10 points and — thanks to an improved jumper — hitting 45.3 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3-point range. In three starts since being elevated to the starting backcourt, he is averaging 15.7 points.
With length that belies his 6-foot-2 frame and enough athleticism to cover point guards and small forwards alike, Hill provides the Spurs with defensive flexibility. He could start on Rose tonight.
“He's a very explosive player who provides us with some versatility defensively,” Manu Ginobili said. “He's been good for us.”
The first and next-to-last guards selected in the first round of the 2008 draft, Rose and Hill are two different players shouldering two different sets of expectations. In many ways, their storylines were set on draft day.
In Chicago, Rose was the golden child sent to revive a franchise that has floundered since Michael Jordan left. In San Antonio, Hill was the latest in a series of little-known draftees that sent fans scrambling to Google.
Hill was never considered a lottery pick. Even at 26th, some believed the Spurs had reached. Hill, not surprisingly, disagreed.
“I always felt like, when I kept my name in the draft, my workout would speak for itself,” Hill said. “I told myself I was only going to keep my name in if I performed at a first-round level, and that's how I felt.”
The slam-dunk No. 1 pick, Rose averaged 16.8 points and 6.3 assists as a rookie and is contributing a team-leading 19.4 points this season. With his outside shot still a work in progress, Rose, 21, has experienced some bumps as a sophomore, but is coming off a 32-point performance at Phoenix on Friday and a 20-point outing Saturday at Houston.
Tonight, he will take his customary spot in the starting lineup for the Bulls. Across the floor, the Spurs are likely to start another guard from the Class of 2008.
Only one was labeled a can't-miss prospect. So far, neither of them have.
To Hill, it is just further confirmation that his draft-day doubts were worth it.
“I always felt like things happen for a reason,” Hill said. “It's easy to say now I made the right decision.”