Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series featuring each of the Illinois FCS head coaches. This series, which runs every other Wednesday, focuses on each coach’s favorite teams and athletes as he grew up.
Your eyes might fall upon an item that seems out of place in a head football coach's office. Yet, there it is.
"Right now, I’m looking at a Pistol Pete (Maravich) jersey from the Atlanta Hawks. It’s framed and it’s in my office here," Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill told Prairie State Pigskin. "He was my childhood hero growing up. I was pretty basketball-focused growing up."
Wait a minute; Maravich died when the 33-year-old Hill was just a toddler. Yet, a connection transpired rapidly.
"My grandpa got me that movie, The Pistol," Hill explained. "I cut my hair like him. I’d go out to the railroad and dribble the ball on train track. I learned how to spin the ball on my finger when I was in first grade because Pistol Pete could do that. I’d wake up and sneak out of the house and go get some shots in because that’s what he was doing. He was my guy."
Hill's hoop dreams continued in his elementary school days.
"I was in kindergarten, which was 1990-91 when Duke won the national championship," Hill said. "My grandpa’s neighbor in DuQuoin went to Duke and he brought me back some folders and notebooks that just said Duke University on them. I thought he was the coolest guy ever as a kindergartner. I was a huge Bobby Hurley fan. Still have my Bobby Hurley jerseys at my house."
Hill's passion for the roundball grew larger as he did.
"I’d mow grass and save my money and my dad would take me out to Duke basketball camp every summer," Hill said. "When I was a kid I’d live and die with it. If North Carolina beat them when I was in like fifth grade, I didn’t want to go to school the next day because everybody would be on me because I was pretty confident about the Blue Devils.
"I got to go out to a game one time when I was in high school."
Hill excelled in both basketball and football at DuQuoin High School. He was a First-Team All-State selection on the court his junior and senior years. That same honor was bestowed upon him in football his final season. In fact, Hill became DuQuoin's first 4,000-yard career passer in 35 years, following in the footsteps of Don Stanhouse, who later made a name for himself as a major league baseball pitcher.
Hill accepted a basketball scholarship to Western Kentucky University before later transferring to SIU where he switched sports and led the Salukis to conference championships and the playoffs.
Being a two-sport star, Hill's only heroes weren't confined to basketball.
"In football, (Brett) Favre was my guy. I always tried to play with a passion and fire while having fun," he said. "I never really had a team. It was pretty cool that the Bears were from Illinois and then I went to training camp with them. But I didn’t have a diehard football team."
Yet, when it comes to basketball, Hill does have teams.
"Certainly, the Salukis, but I still follow Duke," he said, "I know if they’re winning or losing."