Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, June 10, 2016

WNBA Report: Hill's Offseason Workouts Have Become Monumental for Washington

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

ARLINGTON, Texas – Tayler Hill enjoyed a challenging offseason despite enduring many difficult days. 

 “It was so much and there was no easy days,” Hill said of her offseason workouts. “Some days were harder than others where I wanted to kick all the balls out of the gym. 

"I think it had to be that way for me to come back and prepare myself to where I wanted to be and where the coaches wanted me to be.  They were fun. I looked forward to them everyday.”

 Hill worked on every aspect of her game from shooting to enhancing subtle nuances with assistant coach Eric Thibault, the son of Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault.

 The sessions were arduous and ultimately productive. Now in her fourth year in the WNBA, the Ohio State product is soaring and shining for the Mystics. It’s always cool to see great things happen to good people.

Hill was the subject of inside humor when she was picked fourth overall in the 2012 draft following the celebrated Three to See trio selections of Brittney Griner (Baylor) by the Phoenix Mercury, Elena Delle Donne (Delaware) by the Chicago Sky, and Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame) by the Tulsa Shock (now Dallas Wings).

"You mean the No. 1 pick in the 'other' draft," the elder Thibault quipped of Hill's pick after he came to Washington following a decade coaching the Connecticut Sun before being let go.

To her credit, Hill has made her selection deliver much more value than anticipated coming on the attention of the picks in front of her.

 She is currently 11th in the WNBA in scoring at 15.3 points per game after tallying 14 in an 87-79 victory over the Dallas Stars at the College Park Center Wednesday night. Hill has been consistently strong for the Mystics and a guiding light during their tough start. 

 A pleasant package of excitement, electricity and explosiveness, the physically elegant Hill has scored in double figures in every game but one this season. She’s already produced a pair of sparkling and career-high 24-point scoring efforts. 

Of course, what makes Hill unique is she doesn’t concern herself with her personal numbers. She’s always been a team-first player that cares more about winning than how many points she scored. 

 “I was in D.C. a lot in the summer and I went to Hungary for about a month,” Hill said. “We worked on everything you could work on from different shooting drills and dribbling. All hats go off to the coaches especially coaches’ son. He put in a lot of work with me during the offseason to get me to where I needed to get to this season and put me in a position to be successful.”

 In helping the Mystics to their fourth win in seven games, Hill scored eight points during the Mystics’ 28-16 third quarter surge that made the difference. 

In one mesmerizing sequence, Hill exploded along the baseline and dropped in a sweet reverse layup that would’ve have made Dr. J proud. A few seconds later, Hill then stepped in front of a pass on the Wings’ ensuing possession for a steal and drew a foul while sailing to the basket. 

 Hill also dropped in a pair of her signature three-pointers against the Wings with her silky-smooth stroke over helpless hands.

 Even though it’s still early in the season, Hill is making a strong case for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player honor. She is playing like one of the elite players in the league. 

 “She stayed home this summer and worked out,” second-year guard Natasha Cloud said. “You can see the difference, the confidence in her game, ability to knock down shots, take anyone on any team one-on-one and beat them. She’s one of the best perimeter guards in the league and she’s showing it this year.” 

 As the fourth overall pick in the much-hyped 2013 Draft, much was expected from Hill. It took some time for her to find her groove. Like any player adjusting to playing professionally, the 25-year-old Hill had some shining moments and tough struggles. 

 Hill also gave birth to her son Maurice during her second season and returned to the floor late in the season. She wasn’t herself. Even though she came into camp in great shape last season, Hill still wasn’t where she had liked to be. She did end the season well by playing great in the playoffs against the Liberty.

 “I think last year was a stepping stone for me coming back after having my son,” Hill said. “I did return six weeks and played limited minutes. Last year was getting my rhythm back. 

"People who have kids understand that your body changes so much after giving birth. When you’re coming back to a physical sport, it’s so much harder. Last year was a learning curve for me and getting back to where I needed to be.”

 Her improvement isn’t lost her head coach.

 “Her work in the offseason was exceptionally good,” Thibault said. “She added some stuff to her game such as ball-handling skills, attacking the basket and not being just a jump shooter. She’s gotten to the point where she’s the focus of other teams’ scouts and now she has to adjust how she’s being played.”

 Thibault has also noticed that Hill’s approach to the game has been sharper as well this season.

 “She’s getting there,” Thibault said. “She’s getting better on the defensive end as well. Her quickness and quick hands should be an asset for her. 

"She’s still learning how to use them to her advantage and force people where she wants them to go. It’s a learning process. The growth and maturity of her day-to-day work habits are really good right now.”

 Hill has doubled her scoring average from last season when she contributed 7.5 points per game in 17.0 minutes per game. 

She leads Washington in minutes played this season, averaging 30.3 per game. In addition to hitting 34.6 percent of her three-point shots, Hill has contributed 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per outing. 

 “I don’t think I had any doubts that I could do this all along,” Hill said. “Growing up and playing in high school and college, I never doubted myself. I just grew up in that type of atmosphere. 

"My parents instilled so much confidence in me when I was younger regardless if I was having a good year or bad year, good game or bad game. I knew I was always confident in myself in whatever I could do. Regardless if you do well or bad, you’re still going to have to people that doubt you. I have the support system within the team and coaches and my family and that’s all that matters to me.”

 NOTE: The Mystics return home to host the defending champion Minnesota Lynx Saturday night at the Verizon Center. Washington won both matchups last season against the Lynx.