Ahmed Hill was preparing to have a big sophomore season at Virginia Tech. Instead, fate led him down a different path when he suffered a 50% tear of his patella tendon during a workout last summer.
“I never wanted to have a knee injury,” Hill said during an interview with TSL last Friday. “I’d rather have any other injury than a knee injury.”
As it turned out, that’s exactly the injury that struck Hill while working out last summer. At the time Hill was a rising sophomore wing who had averaged 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds while starting 30 out of 33 games as a freshman.
Last night on Tech Talk Live, Buzz Williams called Hill the “toughest” player on the roster. True to form, and mistaking the injury as tendonitis, he originally tried to play through it.
“In our culture, there’s no room for softness,” Hill said.
Unfortunately, even the toughest of players can’t play through an injury like that. Hill was pulled from a pickup game after the staff saw the way he was moving. After learning the diagnosis, there was only one way he could describe it.
“It was probably one of the lowest of the lows.”
It was even more frustrating for Hill because he felt that he had made a lot of progress from his freshman season. Known as one of the hardest working players in the program, he worked on his game constantly, and his progress was hard to ignore.
“In the summer, I had developed into the player I wanted to be,” Hill said. “I was beginning to knock down my shot consistently, and I improved my ball handling. I just understood the game a lot more.”
Hill was being counted on to be one of Tech’s top players in 2015-16. However, surgery last August put his status for the season up in the air. Hokie fans spent much of the season wondering whether Hill would play, but the truth of the matter is that it was always unlikely.
While Buzz Williams certainly would have loved to have had Hill for ACC play, or at least part of it, he was never going to compromise his long-term health or his development.
“I will make the final decision,” Williams told the media in the preseason. “I’ll let Med and his mom be a part of it, but I want to make a decision using the wisdom of doing this for a long period of time. If you let a kid make the decision, they always want to play.”
Because of his deep personal relationship with Williams, Hill was content to let his head coach make the right decision for him.
The pair first met when Hill was a sophomore at Aquinas High School in Augusta, GA. It didn’t take long for him to realize that Buzz Williams was the coach that he wanted to play for.
“He just talked to me about life, basically,” Hill said of his recruitment. “We never talked about basketball. We just talked about life…things that I needed to do to help my mom and stuff like that, like all the hard work it would take. We just had a great relationship, and we talked almost every week.”
Constant trips by Williams to see not just Hill, but also his mother, sealed the deal.
“I committed my 11th grade year, so I went through 12th grade knowing I was going to Marquette. He came down [to Georgia] numerous amounts of times. Some days he would just come down and talk to my mom and not even see me.“
Except that Hill didn’t end up going to Marquette. As he was getting ready for his Senior Prom, Hill received a phone call from his future head coach.
“It was my birthday, as a matter of fact,” Hill said. “He called me and said, ‘Ahmed, I’m taking the job at Virginia Tech, and we’d love to have you. I want you to help us build this thing the right way.’”
Coming out of high school, Hill was ranked as the #63 recruit in the country by Rivals.com. He had offers from not only Marquette, but from other major programs such as Missouri, UConn, Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Kansas, Texas, Villanova, and many others. Obviously there were many programs willing to take him off Marquette’s hands if he didn’t want to attend that school without Buzz Williams.
According to Hill, though, he knew exactly where he was going to college.
“He told me to call him back after prom, but I already knew by the time I hung up the phone that I was going to be here (at Virginia Tech) with him because I didn’t have any relationships with other coaches like that.”
With that type of relationship, it was easy for Hill to allow Williams to make the decision to redshirt him. In fact, both agree that it will help his long-term development. Buzz said on Monday’s Tech Talk Live that he can’t wait to see Hill as a r-senior one day. Hill concurred.
[The injury has] been a blessing in disguise,” he admitted. “I knew Buzz wouldn’t want to put me in that predicament. I knew he would want me to have the whole season to get right. I knew he wasn’t going to just throw me in there. It was really good to know that. Now I could just focus on coming back and getting back into the flow.”
Hill has been back practicing with his teammates, and he could be playing right now. However, at the moment his job description is a bit different: to be the best scout team player he can possibly be.
“I think I do a great job for the scout team. I’ll push them in practice. I’ll give them a great look. I think I do a pretty good job. I play hard defense on them like a real team would do.”
Of course, it’s not easy sitting out, especially knowing that he’s now healthy enough to be helping his teammates. Any competitive athlete, regardless of the sport, always wants to play. However, sitting out has been made a little easier by having a first-hand view of the success the team is having.
“Seeing them have success is a great, great, great feeling,” Hill said. “It’s like one of the greatest feelings ever. Last year, that was a very tough year to go through. We fought every day, and we brought it every game, but the outcome would be the same.”
Thanks to the hard work of the returning players, and the addition of talented players like Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, Justin Robinson and others, it doesn’t appear that the Hokies will have another season like 2014-15 anytime soon. The bulk of the current roster returns for the 2016-17 season, and for 2017-18 as well.
Even though the Hokies are on a roll right now, and they plan to make some noise in the ACC Tournament, even Hill can’t help but look ahead to next season.
“I work out every day. I work out prior to practice, I shoot extra. I just can’t wait until next year.”
Hokie fans can’t either.