January 6, 2022
Naz Hillmon special highlights senior’s family legacy and Big Ten glory
'I felt like basketball was the way to be like them'
After a workout with Naz Hillmon in USA basketball a couple of years ago, Michigan’s head coach Kim Barnes Arico received a text from Dawn Staley. All it said was “Naz Hillmon.”
When a player gets the attention of a Hall of Fame coach like Staley; the impact such player has can be felt on and off the basketball court. That’s the type of presence Hillmon has shown throughout her time at Michigan. And during a 25-minute special shown after Michigan’s loss to Nebraska on Jan. 4. It’ll be repeated Thursday at 10 PM ET, following the Northwestern vs. Iowa game on the Big Ten Network.
“The B1G Story: Naz Hillmon” highlights the senior’s highs and lows as her time at Michigan starts to come to a close. Her ebullient nature was captured through stories from Arico, her teammates and family members along with sit-down interviews with Hillmon at her home and high school gym.
One of the reasons success has found Hillmon, who is a WNBA prospect and is averaging 20.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season, is because of her family’s deep ties to basketball. Her mother, NaSheema Anderson, was an All-American at Vanderbilt in the mid-90s and went on to play in the ABL for one season. Her grandmother also played at Cleveland State University while her uncle and aunts also experienced success at the prep hoops level.
“I wanted to be like the rest of my family,” said Hillmon early on in the special, “My grandma, uncle, aunts…I felt like basketball was the way to be like them.”
Before arriving at Michigan, Hillmon dominated high school basketball in Cleveland. She led Gilmour Academy to its first state title after it had never gotten past the district finals. However, her success in the state playoffs wasn’t the most notable moment in her home state during the special.
Hillmon returned to the gym she played in when she helped lead her high school team to a state championship; when Michigan went up against Ohio State in Jerome Schottenstein Center on Jan. 21, 2021. Despite her team losing to the Buckeyes that day, she put 50 points which was the highest total for both the men’s and women’s programs.
Right, when it seemed like the moment couldn’t be even sweeter for Hillmon; she received a shoutout that any Cleveland native would lose their mind over.
“[Losing to the Buckeyes after Hillmon put up 50 points] is what hurt all of us the most because Naz did everything she could and we still didn’t win,” said Michigan guard Danielle Rauch. “We were sitting on the bus and Naz’s phone is blowing up and we were all pretty quiet. She yelled, ‘LeBron [James] just posted me on his story.'”
Even Hillmon, whose humility was talked about at length during the special, admittedly was overwhelmed by James’ shoutout.
“I was a little down after the game because of the loss but LeBron posted about me,” said Hillmon. “You can’t be upset now.”
What was perhaps the most touching moment of the whole special was the reactions of Arico, her teammates and family members watching her post-game press conference after Michigan advanced to the Sweet 16 over Tennessee. When asked what it meant to her to reach this level of greatness at the collegiate level, she immediately credited her teammates and coaching staff. Her father, Nick Anderson, shed tears watching the moment unfold while Arico, her mom and Rauch were in awe of Hillmon’s “team-before-me” statements after the win.
“It’s never about her. It’s about the team,” said NaSheema.
“That’s a daddy-daughter moment that exists from hundreds of miles away,” said Nick. “I felt and understood every ounce of emotion that she was feeling at that time.”
Even after leading Michigan to its first Sweet Sixteen appearance, Hillmon has another shot at making a deep March Madness run this year. Despite being upset by Rutgers on Jan. 4, the Wolverines were ranked 8th in the most recent AP poll and beat No. 5 Baylor; their first win versus a top-five opponent in program history. There’s plenty of work to be done before Hillmon’s time at Michigan is over. But the special was a nice way to commemorate a player who means so much to Ann Arbor.
“[Hillmon] could have the most significant career of anyone who has ever played at Michigan,” said 2013 Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Jim Foster.