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Hill, after player mutiny in Orlando, has new challenge in Vancouver

October 24, 1997

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ It was a summer night in the Pacific Northwest and Brian Hill was several months and thousands of miles removed from the mutiny that drove him from Orlando.

Newly hired as the third coach of the now third-year Vancouver Grizzlies, he was eating dinner in a restaurant when he was approached by a Grizzlies’ fan who related his expectations.

``The guy said, `I’ll be happy with 45 wins.′ I just kind of laughed at him. `Forty-five?′ I said. `I’d be happy with that also, but let’s be realistic. Not too many NBA teams have made that kind of a jump in one year.‴

And not many coaches have been through the kind of year Hill has.

In Orlando, where he led the team to the 1995 NBA Finals, the players, led by Penny Hardaway, mutinied against the coach and forced ownership to fire him midway through the season.

It was the club’s dedication to Hill, the players believed, that was partly responsible for driving Shaquille O’Neal out of town. It was Hill’s predictable system, the players decided, that was stifling their offensive creativity.

Most of all, it was unfulfilled expectations, especially among players and fans who had been to the Finals, that ultimately led to his dismissal.

``Expectations,″ said Hill, shaking his head and smiling, ``are the death of serenity.″

And 45 wins from the Grizzlies, who dropped from 15 victories in their inaugural campaign to 14 last year, is asking too much.

Hill’s not promising immediate miracles from the Grizzlies, who dismissed Brian Winters midway through last season in favor of president and general manager Stu Jackson, who returns exclusively to the front office this season.

``Absolutely, that’s the challenge of it,″ Hill said, when asked if he is driven by what happened in Orlando. ``You say, `Okay, I had talent and I won. I didn’t win the NBA championship, but we won. We won big.

``And now, I want this other challenge. We’re a team of lesser talent right now. But I want to take this team to the same level.″

Hill made that statement in September. Since the start of training camp, he has refused to discuss the past, in particular what happened between him and the Magic players.

It’s evident, however, that Hill believes he has something to prove.

``No, I don’t have any bitterness,″ he said. ``I have some disappointment in the way the events were handled and the way they went down in Orlando. But I wouldn’t say bitterness.

``You’re never going to forget, but you can forgive, and that’s kind of the way I look at the situation.″

Calling it an ``isolated case″ in his 28 years of coaching, Hill’s fate was sealed over a five-game stretch.

One moment, the Magic were heading into the All-Star break having won 13 of 16, including a 9-1 run. The next week it was over. Following a loss in Detroit that kicked off a four-game road swing, the players held a meeting at the team hotel. Although the versions differ on what took place, Hardaway delivered the news to team management that the players had lost confidence in Hill.

By the time the Magic returned to Orlando, Hill was fired.

According to those who followed the team, the Magic players _ even though they were beginning to win _ were upset over their respective roles on a team struggling to fill the void left by O’Neal.

Last month during a visit to Seattle, Hardaway said that he doesn’t want to ``harp on anything in the past.″

As for forgiving but not forgetting, Hardaway said it’s a two-way street. ``We’re not bitter, but we won’t forget either. We can say the same thing (as Hill), so when you write it, it goes both ways.″

Three weeks into training camp, Hill has the support of his new players.

``There is a difference,″ said veteran Blue Edwards, one of three original Grizzlies _ Bryant Reeves and Doug Edwards are the others. ``It’s not so much as X’s and O’s because Brian Winters was a very good X’s and O’s coach.″

Weeks prior to Winters’ firing, Edwards went public saying some of the Grizzlies were beginning to tune out their coach.

``Brian Hill, on the other hand, is a bit more vocal, a bit more demonstrative.... I wouldn’t say we’re working any harder, but when we’re not playing up to our potential, (Hill) lets us know, whereas before it wasn’t always said,″ Edwards said.

Hill admitted he questioned himself and his abilities after he left Orlando: ``It was a stigma that I had to overcome.″

But he’s confident in what he can bring to the Grizzlies.

``I’ve had 28 years of trial and error and experimenting and finding out what works and what doesn’t and developing a philosophy,″ Hill said.

Hill recalled his first season as an assistant in Orlando, when the Magic went from winning 21 to 31 games. He considered that a fulfilling start.

``I guess you’d say I’ve kind of come full circle,″ he said.

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