Editor’s note: This is the third in a seven-part series from The Flash Today covering the 11 members of the 2017 men’s basketball recruiting class at Tarleton State. Tonight, we get to know Florida Atlantic (Division I) transfer Jesse Hill, a Presidential Scholar with a near-perfect grade point average. Friday through Saturday we take a closer look at the remaining college transfers, and next Monday and Tuesday the series concludes with more on the seven high school signees.
By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 22, 2017) — As a college freshman, Jesse Hill had it all.
Standing 6-8 and and just months removed from finishing his Point Pleasant Beach High School career as Ocean County Player of the Year, the Waretown, New Jersey native found himself on scholarship at Division I Florida Atlantic University.
And he wasn’t just present and accounted for, but contributing as a true freshman at FAU. Hill appeared in 30 games in 2015-16 and not just sparingly, averaging 18 minutes per game. He had several double-digit scoring performances including a career-best 22-point explosion against intrastate rival Central Florida.
“My freshman year I just knew I was going to have a great career at FAU,” said Hill. “I was already getting to play a lot and I had some really good games. It was only going to get better, I thought.”
His thought was based on an assumption he would have the same coaches moving forward. But staff changes followed the 8-25 season, and Hill felt as if he was lost in the shuffle.
“Some of the coaches left, and then my sophomore year, a lot of us weren’t getting the opportunities we felt like we deserved,” he said.
Hill suffered a minor injury early last season, and says he was never given an opportunity to prove he belonged in the new rotation.
He was faced with a tough decision – ride it out at FAU trusting more opportunities would come his way, or blaze himself a new path. A Presidential Scholar one ‘B’ shy of a perfect 4.0 grade point average, the business major who played in all but three games as a true freshman was certain to find an abundance of opportunities.
But Tarleton associate head coach Chris Reisman acted quickly, calling Hill as soon as he learned the power transfer had made official his plan to transfer.
NCAA Division II isn’t typically attractive to a sophomore who played in 30 Division I games as a freshman, but for Hill, a couple opportunities stood out. He could retain both his remaining years of eligibility rather than losing one transferring to another Division I program, and he could complete his business degree at a school in the Texas A&M University System.
Hill was interested enough to travel to Stephenville for an official visit, and quickly realized Tarleton aced his checklists both athletically and academically.
“Basketball comes first for me right now because I know what I’m capable of on the court,” said Hill in a Wednesday afternoon interview with The Flash Today. “But I know whenever I get done playing in college and hopefully professionally, that I’m going to want to start another career, so the chance to get a respected degree from a school within the Texas A&M System made Tarleton attractive to me.”
Three decades of basketball success under head coach Lonn Reisman further swayed Hill to move to Texas.
“I wanted to play at a school that competed consistently at the top of its conference,” he said. “And I wanted to go somewhere with a well established coach.”
Tarleton was second last season in the Lone Star Conference that it has won several times before, be it regular season championships, tournament titles or both. And after 29 seasons and 635 wins in Stephenville, Lonn Reisman may as well have authored the book on becoming established. He is the winningest current men’s coach at any level of college basketball in Texas and one of only six current Division II coaches with 600 wins.
“Coach (Lonn) Reisman has been there a long time, and his dedication to the program and the university were important to me,” said Hill. “He also showed me how dedicated he is to the education of his players.”
Hence meetings between Hill and academic advisors during his official visit.
“Dr. (Nathan) Heller (associate dean, College of Business Administration and associate professor, department of management) did a great job with Jesse on his visit,” said Chris Reisman. “I think they wanted him as badly as we did, and (Heller) did a great job recruiting him from an academic standpoint.”
Hill was certainly impressed.
“I knew I was going to get the chance to play for a top-level program and get a degree that I could be proud of,” he said.
Suddenly, Division II, at least at Tarleton with its four regional titles and pair of national semifinal runs, looked quite attractive.
Especially once he got on the court with some of his future teammates.
“I had a workout with current players and could tell immediately some of them could hold their own against most of the Division I players I’ve been around,” Hill said. “The talent level didn’t feel like Division II at all.”
Hill soon committed Tarleton, and plans to move to Stephenville by mid-July to begin preparing for the season.
“I can’t wait to get there,” he said. “I know because of the type of man Coach (Lonn) Reisman is that we’ll have a great group of guys, and I can’t wait to meet the rest of them and start coming together as a team.”
Tarleton coaches can’t wait to put Hill’s talent to use.
“He has a great skill set for his size. He can really shoot the basketball well and he can score off the bounce;” said Chris Reisman, who has coached 16 years alongside his father after playing point guard for the Texans. “He experienced success as a freshman in Conference USA. He had nine double-digit scoring games, I think, so he brings that confidence with him.”
Hill labels himself a stretch-4, something quite familiar to Tarleton followers.
“That’s what I really see myself as, but I think I’m versatile enough to play the 3, 4, or 5 (small forward, power forward or center positions),” Hill said. “I think shooting is my biggest strength, but I’ve also been working on attacking inside and finishing at the rim.”
That’s exactly what Chris Reisman says the Texans were looking to add.
“We wanted to add bigs who have to be guarded inside and outside, and he helps us achieve that,” said the associate head coach, also the point man in the recruiting of Jaraan Lands, a senior power forward and another stretch-4 transferring to Tarleton from Division I Albany (NY).
The Texans also have reigning LSC Freshman of the Year Anthony Davis back at that position, as well as Josh Hawley, whose freshman season was cut short by injury. Tarleton typically classifies all its post players as power forwards. Some will be used to fill the 5-spot vacated by LSC Defensive Player of the Year Romond Jenkins, an all-region pick and Reese’s National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Star selection.
Hill was already familiar with Texas before his official visit, easing the transition for someone whose lived on the coasts of the eastern seaboard and Florida.
“I had been to Texas a couple times before so I already knew I liked it,” he said. “The town is nice and the campus is great. I’m happy to have everything in place so I can forget about last year and move forward.
Forward in pursuit of dreams he believes can be reached at Tarleton.
“I think Tarleton is a place where I can achieve my goals as a basketball player and as a student,” he said. “Tarleton can help make my dreams come true.”