For the first time ever The Basketball Tournament — a.k.a. TBT — will feature a team of Fighting Illini alumni. GM (and fellow former Illini) Mike LaTulip has recruited a solid, competitive squad of past Illini players.
We’ll talk more about the rest of the House of ‘Paign roster in the coming days. But why not start with arguably the best player on the team?
Illinois Basketball was at a crossroads when Malcolm Hill signed his letter of intent to play for the Illini in November of 2012. Former head coach Bruce Weber was let go following the dismal 2011-2012 season, and John Groce, the University of Ohio transplant, was busy putting together his first class. That 2013 class essentially consisted of one player at each position: Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Malcolm Hill, Austin Colbert, and Maverick Morgan.
The 2013-2014 season started off well, as the Illini finished the non-conference slate at 11-2 with a Braggin’ Rights win over No. 23 Mizzou. But the wheels started to fall off shortly after conference play began, and Illinois slumped into a seven-game losing streak during a particularly rough stretch of play. I distinctly remember being shocked that the streak was snapped on a road game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, when John Groce gave his freshmen guards, Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill, a chance to prove themselves as a change of pace from Rayvonte Rice, Tracy Abrams, and Nnanna Egwu.
As Nunn and Hill led the Illini in scoring with 19 and 11 respectively during that game, I had the distinct sense that these two would set the tone of the John Groce era.
Despite a shocking win at the No. 18 Michigan State Spartans and the Jon Ekey game-winning three-pointer at the No. 24 Iowa Hawkeyes, the Illini didn’t qualify for the post-season, but Malcolm Hill was only beginning to make his presence felt.
Hill was a consistent starter for the rest of his Illini career, and had a number of signature performances in the 2014-2015 season, including a 28-point effort in Illinois’ home victory over the No. 11 Maryland Terrapins.
After losing to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the opening round of the NIT, Hill and the Illini were committed to striving for the NCAA Tournament in 2015-2016. A rash of injuries to Illini starters Leron Black, Mike Thorne Jr., and Tracy Abrams forced Malcolm Hill to shoulder much of the scoring load during that season, but despite efforts of 30 points in a victory against the No. 20 Purdue Boilermakers and 28 points in the 110-101 3OT victory at the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Hill was simply not able to single-handedly push Illinois to victory often enough. Illinois ended the 2015-2016 campaign at 15-19.
Now poised to climb deep into the record books at Illinois, Hill was determined to reach the elusive goal of an NCAA Tournament berth during his senior season. This was again a season at the crossroads of two eras, as Hill played mentor to future starters Illini Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams. The Illini struggled through an 0-3 run at the NIT Season Tipoff in New York, and conference play was hit-and-miss until Malcolm Hill essentially willed Illinois to four wins out of the final five games of the season, including an emotional Senior Night win over Michigan State.
In a heartbreaking finish, the Illini lost their chance at making the NCAA Tournament with a season-ending road defeat to Rutgers. With their momentum completely stalled, Illinois languished in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament during a bizarre 75-55 defeat at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines, who played in their practice uniforms due to travel complications.
Malcolm Hill finished his Illini career with 1,846 total points, which is good for third all-time. Hill is also only the second Illinois player in program history with at least 1,800 points and 600 rebounds, which is a reflection of the multiple roles he filled during his career. Hill also finished his career at 7th all-time in minutes played (3,864) and tenth in career starts (113).
Upon graduation, Hill played in the NBA Summer League for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017 & Utah Jazz in 2018 but failed to secure a roster spot. He’s since played internationally in the Philippines, Germany & Kazhakstan.
Even without an NCAA Tournament berth to his name, Malcolm Hill’s efforts during some of the darkest days of Illinois Basketball were simply legendary. His attitude and effort no doubt inspired his younger teammates to emulate him, which paid dividends during Illinois’ recent successes just a few short months ago.