Tayler hill’s legacy lives on at south

Maggie Fisher, Staff Writer

Many athletes come and go at South, but none so accomplished as current WNBA player Tayler Hill. It’s been five years since the basketball star graduated from South, and she is anything but forgotten. Her family is still involved in the South High basketball program, and the athletic department will honor Hill this year by retiring her jersey.


During Hill’s career at South, she was decorated with awards and press coverage in addition to setting several records. As a senior, she was the 12th overall recruit nationally, according to ESPN, and she accepted a scholarship from the Ohio State Buckeyes. Her college career mirrored her high school career.


“At first in high school and in freshman year of college my biggest challenge was pushing myself every day even if the competition wasn’t pushing me,” explained Hill, “There were days that I would’ve rather slept or hung out with friends, but I knew I should go up to the gym and shoot a little bit.”


Her hard work was rewarded. She started for the Buckeyes for four years and led them to two Big Ten Conference championships. Hill was the second player in Buckeye history to record 2,000 points, 300 assists and 200 steals in a career.


In April, Hill was chosen fourth overall in the WNBA draft. In her premiere season with the Washington Mystics, she averaged six and a half points per game, a huge difference from her college average of 21.5 points.


“She struggled…the first half of the season and then got a lot better. The players were bigger, faster, and stronger than most of the ones she played against in college… She had a much more productive second half of the season,” said Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault, in an email.


Though Hill and her partner Dave Lighty are expecting a baby in May, according to a Mystics press release, she plans to return for at least part of the 2014 WNBA season.


“In college, I had a big responsibility…But once you get to the WNBA, there are 10 other girls that are just as good as you or better,” added Hill, “They don’t need you to come in and be a superstar.”


As early as fifth grade it was obvious to the former South basketball coach, Ahmil Jihad, that Hill was not a typical player. She had long arms, good control of her body, and an undeniable wisdom of the game.


But Jihad thinks what set her apart was her leadership: “She kind of thought out of the box…she was more of a coach on the floor.She kind of knew how to play the game at a higher level and a quicker pace. That separated her from the rest.”


At South, she quickly emerged as a star player. She set the Minnesota record for points scored in a varsity high school career for boys or girls. Her list of awards includes three all-state teams, five all-city teams, two-time Gatorade Minnesota player of the year, two-time USA women’s developmental team, McDonalds All-American, and the Timberwolves Ten. Under Hill, South went to state four times, were Class AAAA runners-up twice, and finally clinched the state championship in 2009, her senior year.


“She wasn’t a diva at all. In the hallways she was everybody’s friend. She was just Tayler,” recalled Athletic Director Mark Sanders. “The girls all looked up to her and respected her.”

The press honed its focus in on Hill. She amassed a fan base that reached out over the entire community.  “I don’t know if there is any other player as popular as Tayler. People would come just to see her play,” shared program clerk Renee Magney.


Jihad recalled, “She stayed pretty much level-headed and didn’t change a lot. She didn’t hang out with a huge entourage or anything like that.”


Although Hill was no stranger to the press, it wasn’t the highlight of her success at South. According to athletic secretary Lynn Heldt, they would have to hide Hill before some games in order to let her enjoy the game and avoid the limelight status that she was frequently thrust into by the media’s coverage. According to Hill, Coach Jihad would have to regulate how much the press got to interview her to ensure that she still, “was enjoying the teenager life.”

“I remember her saying she didn’t like it that much. The press would always interview her, write about her,” recounted Magney, “It bothered her, she’d tell you later, but she didn’t ever seem to let it bother her. She kind of ignored them like they weren’t even there.”


Hill’s dislike for attention was not unwarranted. According to ESPN Sports, the night before the 2008 state championship game against St. Paul Central, Hill received a death threat. The caller threatened to break her legs, shoot, and kill her. Her father, Paul Hill, told the Star Tribune that the caller proceeded to say “you can’t beat Central.” The police tracked the call and discovered it had a St. Paul area code.


In an interview with HoopGurlz.com, Sanders said, “She received some threatening phone calls late Friday night, early Saturday morning that were graphic and violent in nature.”

Hill still played in the championship game that day. Although South lost, she still scored nine points. According to MPR, Hill wasn’t thinking about the threats during the game.


“There were times that I didn’t feel like I had people in my corner or the support that I wanted to have, but I was still self-motivated,” explained Hill, “ and family was a motivation to make it to the top.”


The Hills are a basketball family to say the least. Her dad was her club basketball coach, her older brother, PJ Hill, played at Ohio State, and her sister, Tanysha Scott, played at University of Minnesota Duluth.


“On the court my family has played a big role…We were in the gym every weekend. We didn’t have a choice because my dad was the coach,” explained Tayler Hill, “My younger siblings, they look up to me. If I have bad games or good games they are still proud of me and happy for me.”


“The thing is since people think that we’re such a big basketball family that that’s all we do,” explained Tayler Hill’s older sister and current South High co-head varsity basketball coach Tanysha Scott, “With Tayler I don’t even talk about basketball. We talk about boys or whatever is going on; like what she’s wearing.”


Now her legacy is living on through her younger siblings, the oldest of whom, Morgan Hill, is now playing varsity at South. She averaged 20 points per game last year on the ninth-grade team as a seventh grader. She wants the team, “To win, to try to get to the [state] championship…its more pressure like, ‘oh she’s Tayler Hill’s sister she must be good.’ So I just have to keep working hard.”


Tayler Hill makes it a point to stay involved in the basketball program of her alma mater. She ran a basketball clinic in October for six- to fourteen-year-olds at South. According to Scott, the basketball program should expect Hill to be highly involved.


“Hopefully with Tanysha coaching and my little sister coming in, these girls can turn the program back around, and go and win state,” said Tayler Hill.


To add to all the awards Hill already has, the South athletic department is in the preliminary stages of retiring her jersey, according to Sanders.


“We’ve had it tucked away in a drawer and we made sure to never give it out again,” explained Magney.


Although this may be an unusual acknowledgement for a high schooler to attain, for Hill it is well deserved.

“I think that Tayler represents success in the sense that young inner city girls now have somebody to look up to,” said Jihad. “I just think its really special that South [is going to retire her jersey] for her.”