Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
With the expectations on her and the Portales High basketball team she plays for, there is a good chance one month from now that basketball practice will be the hardest work Morgan Hill does all day as a Portales High senior.
A year from now, basketball practice might be the easiest thing Hill has to do all day.
Hill — a 6-foot-1, 150-pound center who has played three years for Portales — has verbally committed to the United States Naval Academy to play basketball, starting in the fall of 2006.
For Hill, the idea of entering the Navy was something she “never, ever, ever” considered before, but the athletic and educational opportunity was too good to turn down.
“You’re not going to be happy all the time anywhere you go,” Hill said. “This is a really good opportunity, an amazing opportunity.”
Hill made her decision last Thursday night, and will later sign a letter of intent to play basketball for the Division-I Patriot League school. Assuming Hill follows through on her commitment, she’ll be the first Portales alum to play Division I basketball since Nate Erdmann, who played at the University of Oklahoma from 1995 to 1997.
What’s just as surprising is that as impressive as Hill’s Portales resume has been — Hill has been on two state champions and one state runnerup — it wasn’t something the U.S. Naval Academy even knew about.
Instead, it was her participation in the Amateur Athletic Union that got Hill discovered. Hill played in a summer AAU tournament in Oregon called the End of the Trail tournament. After the tournament, the Naval Academy contacted a very surprised Hill — so surprised that she thought her father was joking when he handed her the phone and said the Navy wanted to talk to her.
A phone call became a visit by coach Tom Marryott, who told her he saw a role for her as a rebounder who could run the floor and play defense. Hill said she loves to play defense, but Marryott’s visit still didn’t convince her that she wanted to play for the Mids.
A visit to the Annapolis, Md., campus paid off, as she found a group of potential teammates who also never imagined they’d play for a military institution. She ate meals with the basketball team at a dinner table where food was passed around, not in a cafeteria.
“It’s a really good family-type atmosphere,” Hill said of the campus.
As a first-year student, Hill said she would be designated as a “plebe” and would follow much stricter requirements than more seasoned students.
Before becoming a “plebe,” Hill has a season left with the Rams. Portales coach Brenda Gomez feels that it’s part of her job to help Hill be as ready as possible to play for the Mids.
“I definitely think Morgan can rebound for them and she runs the ball very well,” Gomez said. “I don’t think any kid understands the next level, how athletic those girls are on the D-I level. She’s going to have to work really hard, because she’ll be put in a position one-on-one where they can take her away from the basket.
“I hope this season we’ll get her in a position that she’ll be able to work on defending someone one-on-one and not relying on help.”
Hill expects she’ll receive a lot of help with whatever career she chooses out of the military. Depending on what she does after her college career is over, Hill said she’d still have a commitment with the Navy for five to nine years. In this case, a commitment is a job with the military with a good salary and opportunities for advancement.
“I don’t look at it as (being about) the money,” Hill said. “I look at it for the security. I never have to worry about what I’m going to do (after college).”
Now, she’s just got to worry about helping Portales reach its sixth-straight Class 3A title game, and Gomez expects that Hill will be a big part of whatever success Portales has this season.
“This season is going to be her chance to dominate a game,” Gomez said. “She came in as a freshman and she was like Bambi, a little deer. This year, she should expect nothing less than domination and she can do that.”
“She’s got to put it on her own shoulders to think, ‘I’m a Division-I player and I’m able to play to that level.’”
Due to NCAA restrictions, the coaching staff at the U.S. Naval Academy cannot comment on Hill or any other unsigned prospect.