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New bench boss Lew Hill selected as men’s basketball coach

Nathaniel Mata

The UTRGV Athletic Department has hired Oklahoma University’s Lew Hill as the new coach of Vaquero men’s basketball. The long-time assistant will move to the head coach position for the first time in his career.

In an introductory news conference Wednesday Head Coach Hill got his first face-to-face with UTRGV. Student-athletes, university executives and members of the media crowded in to meet Dan Hipsher’s successor. Hipsher was reassigned March 15 after three losing seasons since taking the position, according to a news release.

After sitting through introductions from both President Guy Bailey and Athletics Director Chris King, Hill had the opportunity to tell those in attendance what he hoped to bring. A phrase he kept coming back to was “The losing stops today and winning starts today.”

Hill’s plan to end losing and start winning for men’s basketball is deeper than just strategy on the court.

“I don’t want to put a time on it, but once you start seeing the culture change the winning will come,” said Hill, a native of Mount Vernon, N.Y. “With the recruiting and the mentality change, it will come.”

Hill has been an assistant coach for 26 seasons. His last three stops have been high-profile programs at Texas A&M University, University of Nevada Las Vegas and Oklahoma University. During his time at OU he helped coached the team to four-straight NCAA appearances, as well as an appearance in the Final Four earlier this month. The Sooner teams with Hill on the coaching staff had a combined 111-65 record.

Lon Kruger, the coach that Hill worked with at Oklahoma as well as UNLV, has a distinct Rio Grande Valley connection. Kruger served as UTPA’s head coach from 1982 through 1984. Kruger’s head coaching résumé also includes a brief stint in the NBA, leading the Atlanta Hawks. Hill has been a part of Kruger’s coaching staff for the last 12 seasons.

Kruger, who was also in attendance Wednesday, visited with some fans who remembered his time in Edinburg over 30 years ago. He had a big part in connecting UTRGV with his former assistant and landing him the job and spoke highly of Hill’s character.

“He’s a people person. He’s always about relationships, he’s always about people,” Kruger said. “Lew gets that, he’ll reach out to people in the community. His players will love playing for him. He’ll do great, he’ll be fantastic. People will love him.”

The new head coach will begin in the RGV with a clean slate, a five-year $250,000 salary and all eyes on his team in the fall.

In Hill’s favor is that UTRGV basketball has not had a winning season since the 2007-08 season, under the UTPA name. Tom Schuberth led that team to an 18-13 record. They did not have a conference that year. Since that year the Broncs and now Vaqueros have a combined record of 76-172, and a 19-37 conference record (including Great West Conference and Western Athletic Conference).

King conveyed confidence toward hiring a first-year head coach because of the long apprenticeship under Kruger.

“Everybody has to start somewhere. When you start with someone like Lon Kruger for 12 years and his blueprint for success, to me it doesn’t get much stronger than that,” the seventh-year director of athletics said.
King also praised Hill’s recruiting abilities and connections, especially in major Texas basketball hubs.

“If you look at the best programs in the WAC, those coaches are some of the top recruiters in the country,” King said.” We have four open scholarships. In the Houston and Dallas area, [Hill] has a tremendous amount of contacts. That’s something that’s imperative for us. If we’re going to build a program, we need to build it from freshmen and up.”

Hill has already met with the returning players on the men’s team and will continue to build a new identity for men’s basketball. Since NCAA basketball ended last week, he will have a full offseason cycle before he makes his debut next fall.

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