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February 16, 2006Stanford freshman Lawrence Hill has shown he belongs in big-time college basketball. He just might not belong where he is playing. Because of the configuration of Stanford's roster, Hill has been forced to spend much of his time at power forward, the No. 4 in basketball numerology. At 6-foot-8 and 210 pounds, Hill is better designed for the No. 3, which is where he is likely to be next season with Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt returning and three heralded big men coming to the Cardinal as freshmen.
But that's the future. Now, Hill has to do his job against opponents more suited to banging bodies underneath the basket. He seemed to be holding his own, then had some problems on the Oregon trip (Feb. 2-4).
Coach Trent Johnson said last week that Hill had "hit a wall.'' That statement was followed by Hill playing only two minutes at Cal on Thursday. He did play 22 against Gonzaga on Saturday.
"It was fatigue," Johnson said when asked to define what wall he meant. "And I think again, Lawrence is playing out of position. He is probably about the same weight and the same build as Taj, but Taj has been through it a year. But ... Lawrence has done a good job for this basketball team and he's going to continue to get better."
He said the characteristics of the Cal team were what limited Hill's minutes Thursday rather than any disciplinary or performance issues.
"It had a lot to do with the size and strength of the front line Cal has," Johnson said. "Peter Prowitt was playing well that night and Matt (Haryasz) was able to play that night. Lawrence is an extremely confident young man. So offensively, in our system and when he's able to get shots, he's always going to be confident there. But let's be fair to the kid. Throw him out there, giving away 35 pounds and not as strong, and go against Leon Powe and handle him by himself?"
Hill said he has added 15 pounds since the start of the season, and is a regular visitor to the weight room to increase his strength.
"Putting on weight is not a real concern," he said. "I love lifting and I want to get stronger."
He said he has to think of himself as more of a muscle man when going to the hoop with the ball.
"There were times in the Gonzaga game where I had a chance to finish strong and I didn't," he said. "It didn't have anything to do with my weakness or other guys being stronger. It was just a matter of me playing through it mentally. ... I am trying to mentally get ready to deal with the strength (of the opponent)."
Like most college freshmen, Hill has had to learn to adjust to not only a reduced role, but also one that doesn't begin until the game is well under way.
"I go out there and they introduce the starting lineups, then I sit down and see what the other team is doing and the flow of the game," he said. "Then when I get out there, there are no surprises. Starting isn't as important to me as finishing. I would much rather be out there at the end of the game. I'm sure that every player would."
There is a down side to warming up only to sit down.
"Physically it's hard because you get cold," he said.
A native of Glendale, Arizona, where he was Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2005, Hill had two of his best games in Stanford's visit to his home state in January. Arizona State is at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night and Arizona visits Stanford on Sunday afternoon.
"On a personal note, there is something extra," Hill admitted. "But I want to stay consistent. I don't want to play against them again and struggle. ... Most of all, with our position in the Pac-10, we have to win and that's all I'm worried about."