Brotherly advice guides Tayler Hill
MINNEAPOLIS -- Tayler Hill grew up a few miles from the University of Minnesota, and her annual homecoming as a member of the Ohio State women's basketball team two weeks ago wasn't going well.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes trailed the unranked Gophers by six points at halftime as Hill, a junior guard and the leading scorer in the Big Ten, struggled, hitting 3 of 10 shots from the field and missing all four 3-point attempts.
When the Buckeyes began their warm-ups for the second half, Hill's eyes scanned more than a dozen family members sitting behind the Ohio State bench to find the one person she knew could help. It didn't take long to spot him. P.J. Hill, her older brother and a former Buckeyes basketball player, stood out in a red sweater and matching ball cap.
P.J. caught Tayler's eye and hopped up on the elevated court at Williams Arena. No one from Ohio State thought twice about it because P.J. and Tayler were virtually inseparable two seasons ago, when Tayler was a freshman and P.J. a senior. Tayler even wears the same No. 4 her brother did for the Buckeyes.
Tayler asked him, what am I doing wrong? What do I need to do better?
Play 4Kay on ESPN
Marquette at DePaul, 2 p.m. ET
Miami at Maryland, 2 p.m. ET
Iowa State at Texas Tech, 2 p.m. ET
Arkansas at Auburn, 2 p.m. ET
West Virginia at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. ET
St. John's at Rutgers, 5 p.m. ET
Florida at South Carolina, 5 p.m. ET
Purdue at Ohio State, 5 p.m. ET
Wake Forest at NC State, 5 p.m. ET
Kentucky at Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET * also on ESPN 3D
Connecticut at Oklahoma, 9 p.m. ET
"I just told her, when she attacks the bucket, she can't always get layups or settle for 3s. She's got to shoot that pull-up," P.J. said. "That doesn't give the defense a chance to help."
Although Tayler finished with a game-high 26 points, the Buckeyes lost 76-65, their second of only three defeats this season. Ohio State hosts Purdue as part of Play 4Kay weekend on Sunday.
P.J., who had not seen Tayler play in person all season, stuck around after the game to be there for his little sister, as he always has.
"Every step of the way," said Tayler, who averages 21.6 points a game.
It started young. When Tayler was 7, she briefly played on the same boys' AAU team as P.J., who was 10. In one game, P.J. flipped Tayler a long pass for a fast-break layup, underhanded to make sure she could handle it. But not everyone considered that cool.
"There was a big controversy," Tayler said. "It was not too far after that they called my family and said, no more girls playing with boys."
P.J. grew up a gym rat and an overachiever. He won a national junior college championship in his only season at Midland (Texas), the school that produced Spud Webb. After transferring to Ohio State, Hill mainly came off bench for three seasons and earned respect for his upbeat attitude and unquenchable work ethic. He averaged 3.2 points as a senior.
Meanwhile, Tayler developed into one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, setting a Minnesota career scoring record for boys or girls with 3,888 points during her career at Minneapolis South. She landed at Ohio State because of P.J., who urged her to turn down scholarship offers from Texas and Duke.
"I wasn't considering Ohio State," Tayler said. "They recruited me throughout high school, and I kind of told the coaches, no thank you, and I only told them no thank you because I thought my brother wasn't getting the playing time that he deserved on the men's team. I didn't want to come in, have the opportunity presented for me to play, and then my brother's not playing. I just didn't feel right about that. So I told them, no thank you. They respected my wishes."
But P.J., relentless as always, kept after her. He knew women's coach Jim Foster planned to run an up-tempo offense after all-Big Ten center Jantel Lavender graduated in 2011. Foster already had talented guard Samantha Prahalis, and P.J. figured she and Tayler would mesh beautifully. A month before signing day, P.J. spent two hours on the phone lobbying Tayler to consider the Buckeyes.
"He was like, 'I wouldn't steer you in the wrong direction. It would be fun for us to be here. I can show you the ropes,' " she said.
Some ropes. On Tayler's first day on campus, P.J. put her through a workout so demanding that Tayler collapsed and couldn't finish. "Oh, man," she said. "It was just at a whole different level, whole different intensity." P.J. went on to complete his workout, and Tayler's.
"She wasn't used to working that hard," he said.
Quickly, with P.J. in her ear, she figured out she needed to improve her defense and outside game. Often, Tayler and P.J. met at the Schottenstein Center on campus for late-night shooting and drills, sometimes joined by former Buckeye Evan Turner, who now plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.
"My brother, growing up, nobody has ever outworked him in anything he does, especially in the gym," Tayler said. "He's always wanted to put in extra work to go above and beyond. That's what got him excited. That was his fire, to work, work, work. If I called P.J. freshman year at 3 o'clock in the morning and said, 'Let's go to the gym,' he'd be like, 'I'm coming to get you,' or 'C'mon, let's go to the gym.' "
P.J. said Tayler just needed to move her game to the next level.
"I give the credit to her because she's really worked hard," P.J. said. "In high school, she didn't really work on her game as much. She was just better than everybody. But I always used to tell her, there's going to be a day when you're not going to be better than everybody, and your work is going to separate you. She didn't listen in high school, but she really listened in college."
Now, Tayler and Prahalis set the standard for work ethic.
"They'll come back to the gym, or show up late, or at night," Foster said. "They've got the commitment part of this thing figured out, if you want to be exceptional."
Tayler made herself into such a good defender that, even at 5 feet, 10 inches tall, she often guards the opponent's best scorer. Last season, she made the conference all-defensive team.
Last spring, Foster asked Tayler to work on her 3-point shooting and pull-up jumper. So over the summer, while at Ohio State taking classes, Tayler reprised the shooting drills P.J. taught her, moving from spot to spot on the court and keeping track of her daily progress in a spiral notebook. This season her 3-point and overall shooting percentages improved dramatically, giving Ohio State a second dynamic offensive threat to go with Prahalis. Foster often plays them both 40 minutes a game.
Though P.J. isn't around campus anymore, he keeps track of his sister's game from several hundred miles away via television and live streaming. He and Tayler talk or text just about every day.
"I'm so proud of her," P.J. said. "It's best for me seeing her keep her cool in pressure situations. I'm just so happy for her, man, you don't understand. It's amazing experiencing all of this stuff."
Pat Borzi's three-decade career in journalism has taken him from Long Island to South Florida to New England to New Jersey and on to Minneapolis. He covered the declining years of Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics for the Portland (Maine) Press Herald, and the rise of the latest Yankee dynasty for the Newark (N.J.) Star Ledger.