South Lakes High School in Reston recently retired Grant Hill’s No. 32 jersey. Nobody who plays basketball for the Seahawks will wear that number again.
And with good reason; Hill was one of the best basketball players Northern Virginia ever produced.
He played 18 seasons in the NBA and was a seven-time all-star. He averaged 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists during his career. But he really made his mark in his first six seasons, before injuries limited his game. In his first six seasons, the multi-talented Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.
By the time he decided to quit, Hill had done well enough in business and with his investments to become part of a group that bought the Atlanta Hawks for an estimated $800 million in 2015.
Prior to the NBA, of course, he was one of the most decorated players in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. At Duke from 1990-94, Hill was a two-time All-American, a two-time NCAA champion (losing in the NCAA championship game as a senior) and the league’s Player of the Year in 1994.
But it all began in Reston. And, for a young Grant Hill just entering his teens, being a part of South Lakes basketball was as important to him as it was – when he became a star in college and the pros – for South Lakes to claim him as its own.
Even since Reston was conceived in the 1960s as a planned community, the area has always had an identity separate from the rest of Fairfax County. It also has always had outstanding (and popular) youth sports programs.
That’s the environment that Grant Hill grew up in – an environment where there couldn’t be anything more important to a sport-crazed kid than to grow up and one day play for the Seahawks.
In junior high, he eagerly volunteered to serve as a water boy for the South Lakes varsity. That’s how eager he was to be part of the program.
“It was a different time,” he told The Washington Post in a story about the jersey-retiring ceremony. “You spent your Friday nights watching high school sports and that was entertainment for the whole community. So I just wanted to play at South Lakes and that was pretty much it.”
When the time came for the 6-foot-2 Hill to enter high school, there wasn’t any doubt where he’d go. Given how he’d grown up, he was immune to the pitches of any private schools who sought to lure him away. Grant Hill wasn’t going anywhere but South Lakes.
“The last thing on my mind was the NBA or college,” Hill said in the Post story. “I just wanted to play here at South Lakes. That was what I wanted to do.”
He was a reluctant varsity player at first. When he showed up for the first day of practice as a 14-year-old, he preferred to remain with the freshman team – his buddies. But South Lakes coach Wendell Byrd summoned him to the other end of the court where the varsity was working out, and that’s where he stayed.
Hill didn’t do much more than score on offensive rebounds in that first year. But by Hill’s senior season – he had sprouted to 6-foot-8 by then – he was running the point and had established himself as one of the most versatile players in area history. He led South Lakes to the state tournament in his junior and senior seasons, and was named the area’s “Player of the Year” in 1990, after his senior season.
“Each year, I tried to stretch him a little, move him farther away from the basket,” Byrd said. “He just did a tremendous job as our point guard. He had great savvy.”
More than a quarter-century later, with a distinguished professional career behind him and unimaginable riches to his name, Hill is an A-List basketball celebrity by any measure. But his days at South Lakes still represent something special to him. That’s why he came back earlier this month for the ceremony; that’s also why he hosted a private question-and-answer session with the current varsity players afterward. To the people of Reston and the community at South Lakes, Grant Hill is a hometown hero – in every sense of the word.
“He was a talented young man and the thing I liked about him was that even at a young age, he was very unselfish, very concerned about his teammates and how they reacted to things,” Byrd said. “You could tell he was going to be a quality person.”