Yesterday in North Andover, Boston Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill might as well have been Red Auerbach.
It's funny what a few trades, including and especially one for Kevin Garnett, can do for someone speaking to kids, as Hill did before 108 boys and girls at the Elite Players Camp at North Andover High.
The Celtics are on the map again, with some people - call them crazy - even predicting another run at a championship banner next April and May.
And Hill could feel it.
"Sure, things are a little different around here since we made a few trades," said Hill. "But that's all good. I like the feeling. It's exciting. Expectations are higher. But I have to warn people, we have a lot of work to do."
Hill, who is good friends with NBA scout and camp director Jeff Nelson of Haverhill, made his second pit stop in the Merrimack Valley in a week. The week before he spoke at the 28th anniversary ABA Camp for underprivileged Lawrence boys at Merrimack College.
After his 45-minute lecture he was sweating as if he had played 36 minutes in an NBA game.
"I don't do a lot of this, but I love it," said Hill, who spent eight seasons in the NBA between 1976 and 1984 playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Seattle SuperSonics, San Diego Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks. "I love teaching. I love working with kids."
It showed yesterday.
Hill's forte, he says, is fundamentals.
"If you don't do the little things correctly, you can't be a great player," said Hill to the campers.
He compared the careers of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, who both came up together in the early 1980s in college and the pros.
"Dominique was at Georgia and Michael was a North Carolina. They both were incredible talents and both came into the NBA about the same," he said, holding out his two hands side-by-side.
"The difference was Michael Jordan did everything well. He could dribble. He could pass. He could shoot. He could handle the ball with his left hand. You name it, he could do it. Don't get me wrong, Dominique was a great player. I played with him his rookie year. But Michael Jordan became an all-time great, maybe the best ever."
The moral of the story is don't be a one-trick pony.
Hill is a great story. He grew up in Brooklyn and later attended Princeton University, where he played for the great Pete Carril.
"I chose Princeton because Pete was the only coach who told me, 'I will make you better.' When I heard that, I knew I was going to Princeton, which obviously was a great school," said Hill.
There was one problem. He didn't have the grades to get in.
Instead of accepting other offers, he decided to go to prep school and go to Princeton a year later.
"Education means so much more than basketball," said Hill, who was Ivy League Player of the Year his senior season in 1976. "But you know what? Basketball can help you get an education. If you're disciplined on the court, you will be disciplined off it, too."
Hill got into coaching soon after his playing career, beginning as a high school coach at Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, where he had taken a post-graduate season years before, and led the Big Red to a state title in 1990. He returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach under Carril.
In 1995, he got the head job at Columbia University. But in eight seasons as head coach he had no winning seasons and was fired in 2003.
But after a year with the Atlanta Hawks and then the last three with the Celtics, where he was hired by his friend Doc Rivers, Hill says he couldn't be happier.
"What a great organization this is, and I'd say that before we got Garnett and Ray Allen," said Hill. "Everyone knows about the history, but I like the professionalism. Danny Ainge is a pro. Doc Rivers is a pro. The players are treated very well in Boston."
Finally, it appears, the fans' appetite for success will be whetted.
"I don't want to interfere with the excitement, but people should be a little patient with this team," said Hill. "The one thing we don't have is experience playing together. Those three (Paul Pierce, Allen and Garnett) have seen each other a few times. They've seen each other on TV. But they don't know each other's games just yet.
"That takes time. Chemistry is important in this game. Kevin Garnett said it at the press conference. That's first thing we have to work on. If we do have chemistry, we could be good."
How about king of the Hill?
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of Eagle-Tribune Publishing Co. E-mail him at email@example.com.