As Duke Athletics wraps up yet another successful calendar year, we wanted to look back at interviews with inductees of the Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2016—Individuals who not only contributed to the university’s achievements, but laid the foundation for those to follow.
Today’s feature highlights our conversation with men's basketball standout Grant Hill.
You were talking then about the difference in the relationship you have with Coach [Krzyzewski] compared to a guy that was might be here for six or eight months a one-and-done type. How did being at duke for four years shape you as a player and as a person?
I’m going to say this, I can only look at it from my own experience, and if I had left after one year versus staying for four. I think the beauty of Coach K is that he is adaptive and I think he has accelerated things and changed his approach to accommodate those guys who may consider leaving after one year. So, he may have the same kind of relationship with those guys in one year, but for me personally, I think four years, I mean look, you are going to improve as a player, as a teammate, as a future leader under the tutelage of the best coach in all of basketball. But I think the relationship, the connection, the bond, four years is a long time to really get to know someone and four years you go through a lot you know, there’s an investment that’s a mutual investment into each other. I’m not sure if I had been here for just one that I really could have fully committed and fully received all that there was to receive, and in four years it’s interesting how our relationship and our trust, and ultimately our friendship was nurtured and developed over the course of that time. You know, I think when you look at it, I mean we’re here at the hall of fame, you know jerseys, we won championships, I mean it was all just kind of roll the ball out we played, but the truth of the matter was there was a lot of tough moments. You know it wasn’t easy, it was hard. So when you know you’ve gone through that with somebody when you’ve shared that, that relationship, that bond, I think that’s for a lifetime, and I can go a year or two and not talk to coach and you still have that commonality. My teammates, I mean we all have lives now, we don’t have the luxury of living, and working, and playing together each and every day as we did during our time at school, but we share that, and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a thing that to me is endured over twenty years and it’s still there, so it’s unique, it’s special. It’s probably a little unusual too that twenty plus years later my coach is still coaching at my school, and I love it, I hope he coaches another twenty years. There’s real depth and substance to our relationship and I think everybody has a special relationship in some form or fashion it may differ for each person. I’m embarrassed to say that I listened to Scheyer’s podcast, I’m the one of ten, and I’m also a little upset he’s not invited me, but hopefully one of these days I’ll make the cut, but I was listening to Jay Bilas, and I don’t like to reference your quote, Jay Bilas. He was talking about Coach K, and how he’s had the benefit of knowing him for thirty plus years from high school until present day. As great as things were back in the 90’s, he is so much better now, I just marvel at where he’s at as a coach, what he does, how he leads, how he’s adapted, and in large part, you’re like man, I would love to play for him now, but what Jay said was playing for him when you did, he has the benefit of a thirty year relationship, mine’s not quite 35 years or whatever, but I’m 27 years of having him in my life and be impactful and still continuing to motivate and inspire me twenty some odd years after I played for him. I can’t remember what the question was, I just kind of rambled on.
You mentioned 27 years…you stayed involved with Duke, when you got your degree, and maybe stayed involved with just the basketball program and came back and played with the guys, celebrated with the guys but you’ve involved campus wide, you’ve given money, you’ve given your time, you’ve been an ambassador in a lot of different ways, what about Duke made you want to continue that relationship with the entire university as well as the basketball team for a little over the past two decades?
I think it’s a couple of things. One, I just genuinely love this place. I think for 19 years after I graduated, I was limited in terms of how I was able to stay connected much of it was really in the off-season or the summer when school wasn’t in session. And playing in the NBA, and going through injuries, and playing as an older player, it consumes you. And it really requires so much of your time and attention. But now that I have been retired for the last three or four years to reconnect, and to realize that just because you leave here, whether you are a four-year student athlete, you’re a one and done, or maybe you’re just a regular student, whatever you want to call it, Duke still has so much more to offer. And I really believe that a university like Duke is what it is today because of the alumni, because the alumni stay engaged. So I have been on my soap box trying to encourage former players, former students, anyone, grad student, to stay connected. These are some of the best years of our lives, best moments, some of the relationships, friendships. We learned how to think for ourselves, endure, really just grew up, but the relationship can strengthen and can change, but still be quite the experience. I just enjoy it, I enjoy it, I love staying connected, I love being a part of the university in all aspects, and really sort of rediscovering what the school is all about. Obviously, basketball is near and dear, and basketball is why I’m here, it opened the door, and gave me the opportunity to really experience what Duke is. But Duke has changed, Duke is better, Duke’s improved. I get a tremendous amount of fulfillment, maybe it’s’ the sentimental side of me, maybe I’m trying to re-live my youth, but I enjoy the community, the sense of family the global region network that is Duke. They didn’t have to give this to me to come back, I would have come back anyways.
Lastly, you mentioned the basketball side of it is maybe the reason why you’re here, not today, but in general, associated with Duke, what’s it been like being associated with that Duke Brotherhood, I think it’s an apt label they are giving it the ‘Brotherhood’. What’s it been like to be a part of that and obviously to continue be a part of it going forward?
I think that label is appropriate because it really is a brotherhood. Obviously, when you reflect over time, you think about your teammates, the guys you have played with, but you also think about Johnny Dawkins, Jay Bilas, you think about Billy King, Shane Battier, just because you might not have played with somebody or somebody is older or younger, doesn’t mean you don’t share that bond that sense of togetherness that we’re in this fraternity. We understand the sacrifice; we understand the commitment to excellence, and we are there for each other. It’s very real. God bless, God rest his soul, Art Heyman, who was one of the Duke greats, won the first player of the year, first pick in the draft, obviously, a Duke sports hall of famer, jersey retired, he used to come around all the time. Different time in the early 90’s, didn’t have all the access to information, you couldn’t Google people and things of that nature. We would show him a tremendous amount of respect, but, we had no idea who he was, unless we read about him. So now when I come around, I realize I’m Art Heyman, these guys are looking at me like ‘who’s this old guy?’ but they understand the legacy they are a part of. Whether it’s myself or Jay Bilas or Tony Lang, whoever you were, whatever your stature is was, there is a sense of pride that we all have for one another, and we all support one another. And I think we share in each other’s accomplishments both in sports but just in life in general. The Brotherhood is real, it’s strong, and I think it will only strengthen as time elapses.
That’s awesome man. Appreciate you.