Hillyer signs at Otero
Written by: Joel Priest
Houston, does he have clearance to blast off?
“I think two years from now we could see him playing next level—Division II [NCAA], or even Division I possibly,” said Otero Junior College head coach Houston Reed. “We’re excited to have Derek.”
Roger that. Hillyer is officially cleared for launch.
Better yet, a re-launch of his basketball career—which ended far too early in Bayfield, but which will now resume in La Junta for a winning Rattlers program.
“That absolutely had an impact on it [choosing Otero],” Hillyer said of Otero’s track record of postseason success, especially their performance in 2012. “Having a successful program just makes playing a lot better and a lot more fun.”
“I’d wanted to go to Fort Lewis,” he said, where his father, Rich, still is the all-time leader in blocked shots. “But I had a chance to go to Otero, meet with the coach. And I really liked the campus and college. But the main reason was that I wanted to get more playing time right away—didn’t want to spend a year red-shirting. Just get started, play right away for two years, and then hopefully move on.”
During BHS’ 2011-12 season (a 9-11 overall result) Hillyer averaged 15.6 points per game, pulled in 8.1 rebounds and swatted away 2.5 enemy shots on average—the latter two figures clear eye-openers for Reed, who was looking to replenish his team’s low-post stock.
“We’re losing some bigs this year, so Derek will be a good pick-up for us,” said the seventh-year coach. “He’s got some untapped potential and we see a lot of upside in him. Comes from a great family background as well, and I think his best basketball may still be ahead of him.”
The Rattlers ravaged the NJCAA in 2011-12, going 25-4 in the regular season, winning the Region IX Tournament, and ultimately finishing 30-6 after going 1-2 at the National Championships held March 20-24 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Eventual sixth-place squad Columbia State of Tennessee eliminated Otero on Day 4, while South Plains College of Texas went on to defeat Northwest Florida State College for the title.
Discussing his plans with BHS diploma already in hand, Hillyer noted an interest in a possible business administration major.
“To be a college student-athlete is a lifestyle,” said Reed. “The type of work to be successful is incredible. And we expect our freshmen to compete and go hard, but also put in work on their own.”
Hillyer did that this spring on the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) circuit with an Albuquerque team backed by Indiana Pacer (and ex-UNM) star Danny Granger. Hillyer signed his letter of intent to play in Otero while he was playing at an AAU tournament in Denver.
“Playing varsity all four years was good, to start getting experience,” said the 6’8” Hillyer, “But what’s helped me most, I think, was playing AAU. The pace was so much faster, the talent was much better, and that’s going to help me to play a lot in college.”
“Here at Otero we talk a lot about expectations,” Reed said. “We expect our guys to stay focused academically, and I think Derek’s that kind of guy. We expect them to be the right kind of person on and off the court, and I think Derek’s that kind of guy as well. Definitely a good addition.”