Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Matt Hill grew up with athletics as a constant. His lifelong Lincoln, Neb., neighborhood encircled a park, where he joined with friends for football, basketball or whatever weather permitted.
Hill's father walked on for the hometown Cornhuskers, his sister played volleyball at Kansas and his mother stands over 6-feet tall.
"As soon as we met with Matt's family, we knew they valued team," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "As soon as I saw him play, I knew we needed him. What he does, every great team needs."
But Hill is the last person who will champion his job description for the Longhorns. His humility is as natural as his cordial nature.
"I don't have to do anything special," Hill said. "I just rebound, wear guys down and play defense."
Hill's true value to the Longhorns is impactful, even if imperceptible to the common eye. He opens teammates' shots, prevents others' and generally moves along the offense. Hill's pivots and screens are the impulses that send others to their spots.
Hill's season stat line won't impress, and it's not designed to. The 6-feet, 10-inch post isn't charged with a double-double every game. But his 15 minutes are part of every offensive equation, and Hill sets the standard for post defense.
"He pretty much makes everything go for us," senior Gary Johnson said.
As a fifth-year senior, Hill earned his UT degree in corporate communication this past August and will begin taking graduate classes in the College of Communication this spring. His even-keeled personality in the locker room has steadily guided a Longhorns roster heavy with freshmen and sophomores.
"He just knows everything. Whenever you have a question, you go to Matt," freshman Tristan Thompson said.
Hill's wisdom, by his own admission, has been years in the making.
He came to the Longhorns as a rare Nebraska product to leave the state's boundaries. Tall, naturally strong and with a puffy mane of brown curls, Hill was a promise of potential. His intellect ensured it.
In the winter of his freshman season (2006-07), Hill went to the bench with a stress fracture in his left foot. The on-court pace of college took a toll.
"I had never played that much basketball. Once you get here, there's so much more to learn than you even realize," Hill says. "I'm still learning now."
What started as a tiny crack needed three screws to repair, and Hill settled on a redshirt season in 2007-08. Though active the next two years, Hill rarely saw consistent time off the bench.
This spring and summer, Hill finally moved without lingering effects of the injury, and he used the opportunity to truly become a team leader.
"Matt does the right things for the right reasons," strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright said. "He's diligent beyond his years."
Through his time in the program, Hill has played alongside Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin. He's witnessed how the great players train and carry themselves.
"I wanted to be that guy. I want to be in a leadership role," Hill said. "It's accountability. You don't really have to do anything extra, just maintain the same standards."
Hill is proving himself of the same merit. His words calmed the Longhorns as they traded blows with No. 12/12 Michigan State on Dec. 22. A late punch by the Spartans cut a 15-point UT lead to nine points (59-50), and Barnes called a timeout with 5:39 to play. In the huddle, Hill reminded everyone there was still plenty of basketball left. Just play the game. Out of the timeout, UT used a 6-0 run over the next 1:34 to increase the margin back to 65-50 and seal the victory.
"He's a guy you like having out there, because he's a leader. He's competitive, and he understands the game," Barnes said.