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Embracing Role Model Status

Acknowledging that young people often glorify athletes, Michigan State’s Chris Hill embraces his responsibility as a role model.
By Crystal L. Keels

Chris Hill
2005 Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year
School: Michigan State University
: Senior
Major: Finance
Cumulative GPA: 3.7
Fall 2004 GPA: 3.5
Sport: Basketball

It was “the unbelievable family atmosphere” that drew Chris Hill to Michigan State University’s basketball program. And it has proven to be a good fit for the 6’3″ Spartan guard. In his senior season, he has helped his team return to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament.

In his first year, Hill became the team’s second leading scorer, led his squad in three-point field goals, ranked second in assists and was the co-recipient of the MSU Unsung Player Award, as well as the recipient of the MSU Provost Award as freshman student-athlete of the year.

In subsequent years, Hill was a member of the 2003 USA Basketball Pan-American Games team and has earned various awards, including MSU MVP, Big Ten Player of the Week, 2003 Verizon Academic All-America Third-Team honoree and All-District First Team. Hill was also named a 2004 First-Team Academic All-American, the first MSU player since Greg Kelser in 1979 to be so recognized. And just prior to being named the Male Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the Year, Hill shared the MSU Athlete of the Year award with teammate Drew Naymick. He was also  presented with an MSU Captain’s award and was named the ESPN The Magazine 2005 Academic All-American of the Year.

“To get recognized as the top athlete was pretty amazing,” Hill says.

Also amazing — but not surprising — is the degree to which Hill’s performance on the MSU basketball team has been matched by his accomplishments in the classroom. He holds a 3.75 cumulative grade-point average and a stellar academic record. The importance of both athletics and academics was always something his parents imparted to him, he says.

Hill’s father, Steve, a former track athlete and semi-pro football player, exposed his son to a wide range of sports. “He started me when I was little. And he was my little league coach until middle school,” Hill says. “I do emphasize how important my family is to me. They were at everything, they were always there.” He points out that while he was always active in sports, his mother, Peggy, emphasized the importance of academics as well. “She made sure my school work was done,” he says.

Keeping his eye on academics, Hill chose finance as his major. “It will give me the most flexibility (in the future),” he says. That future may include the NBA or playing basketball in the European leagues, but not without a degree.

With six dean’s list mentions and a host of other academic awards, including the 2004 Playboy Magazine Anson Mount Scholar of the Year, Hill says the Clara Bell Smith Student Academic Athlete Center at MSU has been instrumental in his academic success.

“There is such a demand on college athletes,” Hill says. “Balancing and managing my time, that was difficult, especially early on.” The center houses computer labs, study rooms and tutors for all MSU athletes and is open most days from 7:30 a.m. until midnight.

Liz Friedman, associate director of the center, says working with Hill has been fabulous. “He’s great. Working with him is just a once-a-career thing. And it’s good to have a coach who really supports academics,” she says. 

Head coach Tom Izzo says Hill works extremely hard both on the court and in the classroom to reach his goals.

“He comes from a strong family that taught him the importance of setting high standards and working hard to maintain them,” Izzo says.

It’s the combination of academics and athletics that Hill says is most important. He takes seriously the notion of the college athlete as a role model.

“We as athletes, especially as minorities, have a special obligation because we are exalted,” Hill says. “We should be the ones to set examples.” He says so many young players today set their sights on the NBA but don’t understand the small percentage of athletes chosen to play. 

That, he explains, is part of the motivation for his academic success — to demonstrate to young people the importance of education.

“What I hope I can do is make a difference to other people, impact people’s lives and the way they make choices,” he says.

That’s why Hill also considers community service essential as a way to give back. During the MSU basketball off-season he has been a featured career-day speaker for elementary school students, has visited the terminally ill at a children’s hospital and mentored African-American children struggling in school.

Hill says because of his athletic achievements, he has not encountered racial discrimination directly, but he is very aware of the challenges African Americans continue to face. In that regard, Hill sees Arthur Ashe as a model human being and says he is grateful to be named the 2005 Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar of the year.

“The class that he carried himself with during times of (more blatant) racism, that was unbelievable,” Hill says. “This is amazing to even be mentioned with Arthur Ashe.”

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