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The Second Wave : Hoover High Shooting Star John Hillman Is Following in His Brother Joe’s Footsteps and May Wash Him Out of the Record Book, Too

Times Staff Writer

A lad from Glendale scored 40 points in a high school basketball game last week, which normally would raise an eyebrow or two. But the lad’s name was Hillman, and he played for Hoover. And a Hillman from Hoover scoring 40 points in a game is about as unusual as Manute Bol telling a clothing salesman, “These don’t fit.”

Joe Hillman averaged more than 40 points a game during his senior season at Hoover 5 years ago. He led the state in scoring that year and his 41.3 average is third on the all-time Southern Section list.

Hillman, now the sixth man on Bobby Knight’s Indiana University team, is the Hoover record-holder for points in a season, points in a career and career scoring average.

The latest Hillman is named John, owner of a jump shot sweet enough to send a honey-sucking bear dashing off to the dentist. He is averaging 28 points a game but whistled in 40 against Sonora in the Estancia tournament last week, breaking the tournament record.

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He is only a junior. Next season, John could be nudging his brother aside on a lot of lists.

“John has the same Division I potential as Joe did at this stage,” said Hoover Coach Kirt Kohlmeier, who has coached both Hillmans. “He has one of the best jump shots I’ve ever seen. He’s going to go a long way in basketball. He’s just now realizing what he can do on the basketball floor.”

People in Glendale knew long ago what Joe Hillman could do on the basketball floor. He averaged 17 points a game as a sophomore, when the team was not designed around him and his main job was to pass the ball to the scorers. Every once in a while, though, he’d take a shot. Most of them went in.

He averaged more than 20 points a game as a junior and then, in 1984, he scored 1,074 points and was named MVP of the Pacific League for the third consecutive season.

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Hillman caught the attention of college recruiters but wound up becoming the first player from the West to wear an Indiana uniform under Knight.

In Bloomington, he started at the bottom. But through 14 games in this, his senior season, Hillman has averaged 26 minutes a game. His scoring average is 10.5 and he had a career-high 19 points against St. Bonaventure. He also led the Hoosiers with 17 points against Santa Clara.

“People remember Joe as a big scorer and figure he must have been selfish,” Kohlmeier said. “But in his senior year, Joe was all we had. He had to be the scorer. Joe would do whatever it took to win. He was not at all a selfish kid. He was a very team-oriented person. Joe was a coach’s dream.

“And John is the same.”

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Kohlmeier, however, said that he has avoided bringing up the name of Joe Hillman in front of John.

“I try not to use Joe as an example because I think it might put too much pressure on John,” he said. “They’re a close family and are very supportive of each other, and I don’t think all that Joe accomplished here bothers John. Once in a while, maybe it’s tough for John to be in his brother’s footsteps, but John is very much his own person. He’s starting to realize now that he is John Hillman, not Joe’s brother or anybody else.”

Both Hillmans learned the game from their father Peter, who played basketball and baseball at USC from 1961-63. John said it is his father, not his brother, who influenced him on the court.

“I talk to my brother once in a while, when he calls the house, but we don’t talk about basketball very much,” he said. “We never really did. When he was playing varsity ball in high school I was in fourth and fifth and sixth grades. We never got to play against each other competitively.

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“My brother hasn’t really ever seen me play basketball. When I’m having problems on the court, I go to my dad for help. He’s the one who taught us to play.”

When he first played for the varsity 2 years ago, John heard taunts from opponents who saw his name and remembered the sterling career of his brother. He said that he learned to endure it.

“At first some people said stuff,” Hillman said. “I heard about how I wasn’t as good as my brother and all of that.

“The name doesn’t really mean anything. It’s how you play the game, that’s what gets you where you want to go. Maybe it works the other way sometimes, too. People see the name and figure I must be good, too. But it’s what I do that counts now, not what Joe did. Joe’s not here anymore.”

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Kohlmeier, however, said that he sometimes sees Joe when he looks at his current team, even though there are glaring physical differences between the brothers, including the fact that Joe has black, curly hair and John is a redhead.

“Physically, the brothers don’t look much alike,” Kohlmeier said. “Besides the hair, John is a bit taller and thinner. Joe was more physically mature at this stage. But on the court, when John moves and shoots, I see a lot of Joe. I think there’s no mistaking that they are brothers when you’ve watched them play.”

John hopes his road out of high school is as smooth as was Joe’s.

“I definitely want to play Division I ball someplace,” he said. “I haven’t really thought about where it might be, though. Indiana? I don’t know about that. That might be tough. I’m proud of my brother and all that he’s done. But I’ve got myself to worry about now. He can take care of himself.”

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