By Dave Morrison
If this works out as expected, Mountain State University coach Bob Bolen may end up looking for more bargains at Walmart.
Bolen got a tip from Beckley-area AAU coach Mike Fowlkes that there was an outstanding basketball player, Isaiah Hill, working at a Walmart in the Richmond area. Hill was a 6-foot-8 standout at Hagerstown Community College and had averaged a double-double for his career.
So Bolen got on the phone and started calling Richmond area Walmarts.
His first call went to the Tappahannock Walmart Supercenter.
“I asked them if they had an Isaiah Hill working there,” Bolen said. “A lady said she didn’t think so, but they put me on hold. I was on hold for about 11 minutes and they transferred to sporting goods. I asked a lady there if they had an Isaiah Hill. She said she didn’t think so.
“Then she said, ‘Wait, I think that guy out in the lot pushing buggies is named Isaiah.’ I was on hold for about 20 minutes. Then, Isaiah picked up the phone.”
Hill remembers it well.
“I was worried that something happened to someone in my family, because nobody called me at work,” he said. “It was a surprise.”
One minute you’re stocking shelves, the next you are playing basketball for one of the top NAIA programs in the country.
Hill would likely be playing for a Division I team if he had graduated from Hagerstown, where he averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds as a freshman and 18 and 14 as a sophomore.
His senior year at King Williams High (Va.), he averaged 28 points and 15 rebounds. Former Maryland coach Gary Williams even came to watch him play.
But grades forced him to attend Hagerstown, where he starred for two years.
After talking to Bolen, Hill did some studying of the program. He took a visit in early June and by July he was enrolled in the second semester of summer school, where he got the necessary classwork to gain his eligibility.
“I always knew that I was going to go back to school and play somewhere,” said Hill, who had offers from Shaw, Pikeville (Ky.) and Virginia Union and once had offers from the likes of Division I heavy-hitters like Georgetown and Maryland, as well as ECU and LaSalle.
“I was just working to help my family out. Make some money. The job was OK. Working at Walmart wasn’t going to be something I was going to do forever.”
He hasn’t disappointed at MSU.
“He’s been out a year so he is shaking off some of the dust,” Bolen said. “But he’s 6-8, he’s very athletic and he can shoot the ball. We knew about him in junior college. But it was Mike Fowlkes, who was helping some kids get into junior colleges, who told us he might be available.”
Hill is thankful for the opportunity.
“I just can’t wait to start playing again; it’s been a while,” he said. “I just want to get a degree and, like everybody else who plays basketball, play in the NBA. If that doesn’t work out, play overseas. I want to make money playing basketball.”
And not make it stocking shelves.
Hill and the new-look Cougars start the season Saturday, when MSU hosts Bluefield State at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center at 4 p.m.
Hill admitted that he has gone to the Beckley Walmart “a couple times” and saw an employee doing his old job.
“And I just thought to myself, ‘Man, I’m glad that isn’t me,’” Hill said.
Bolen is just happy with the bargain he found at the supercenter in Tappahannock, Va.