Naz Hillmon: Michigan's not-so-secret weapon

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 7:53pm

Freshman forward Naz Hillmon is second on the team in scoring, despite coming off the bench this season.

Freshman forward Naz Hillmon is second on the team in scoring, despite coming off the bench this season. Buy this photo
Miles Macklin/Daily

It's rare for a freshman to rank second on her team in scoring. Even more so when that freshman shoots over 68 percent from the field and comes off the bench.

Naz Hillmon — the forward who has become one of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s top contributors and one of the Big Ten’s biggest rising stars — has been a revelation for the Wolverines this season, currently ranking fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (68.5) while also putting up 12.6 points per contest. Despite being a bench player, she has found ways to make an impact and make the most of her role.

“Coming off the bench, you can see everything a lot better than a starter would just because you can take from the sidelines and see how your opponent is scoring as well as how you’re scoring,” Hillmon said.

While she is currently playing a key role as the team’s sixth man, Hillmon could potentially find herself in the starting lineup for Thursday night’s home contest against Iowa after senior forward Nicole Munger suffered a devastating injury in Sunday’s 77-73 loss against Michigan State. Michigan will need someone to step up if its senior captain is sidelined. Luckily, it has Hillmon waiting in the wings.

Hillmon, who admitted that she doesn’t know anything about Munger’s status, says that she is prepared to make the jump to the starting five if needed.

“It’ll be a difference,” Hillmon said. “But I just know that I just have to be locked in and ready to go whenever my number is called.”

After Sunday’s tough loss, Michigan now sits at 3-6 in the Big Ten conference and 12-9 overall. While most teams would be discouraged by a subpar record, the Wolverines believe they are close to a breakthrough and, after a series of tight conference losses, are doing what they can to right the ship. Rather than focusing on what could have happened had these nailbiters gone the other way, Hillmon says that the team is focusing on looking forward. On the court, Hillmon could be part of a solution.

“Right now we know that we have some work to do, but we also know what that is,” Hillmon said. “In practice, every day we wanna keep trying to work at it and get those close games to flip the other way.”

One thing Hillmon has been working on is developing a mid-range shot. While she admitted that the shot has never been a major part of her arsenal, she said that she’s doing her best to extend her range in order to open up more space for her teammates. Though she made a free throw line jumper in Sunday’s contest, Hillmon cautioned that “it’s not there yet,” but added that she’s “getting more comfortable” from that range.

Could a 3-pointer be next?

“I’ll have to make some in practice first.”