He shuttled Kevin Durant around Austin in his red Chevy Silverado. He listened to hip-hop in Durant’s dorm room. He chest-bumped Durant after the Texas freshman’s 37 points and 23 rebounds at Texas Tech. He built a friendship that endured.
But as Matt Hill watched Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Nebraska native didn’t just feel pride, joy and admiration for his old Longhorn teammate. Like the rest of the NBA, he felt a hunger to beat Durant.
“I’m still very competitive,” Hill said.
Hill just completed his fifth season with the Orlando Magic. His job title is manager of advanced scouting and player development coach. But the former Lincoln Southeast center wears a lot of hats over his closely cropped haircut.
He scouts opponents. He oversees the film room. He trains players on the practice court, often participating in drills against the Magic big men. Hill isn’t fetching coffee. He’s in the thick of an NBA rebuilding project, sitting behind the bench 82 nights a year.
When you’re 29 years old, it’s not always easy coaching your peers — Magic guard D.J. Augustin was Hill’s classmate at Texas.
“But it doesn’t matter if you’re Joe Schmo or Scott Skiles,” Hill said, “if you know what you’re talking about, players will listen.”
His learning curve started 11 summers ago at Texas. Hill had played in AAU tournaments against a few five-star prospects, but he was still pretty green when he arrived in Austin. Then he started playing pickup games. Of seven Longhorn freshmen, none were qualified to defend Durant.
“We were trying to figure out who would match up with him,” Hill said. “I remember guarding him and it was like, this is a joke. I can’t guard this dude. I can’t. No chance. But I did a lot that summer.”
Durant set the pace, spending more hours at the gym than anyone else. He stood apart with a sense of humility that endeared him to teammates.
After Durant’s NBA departure, Hill played another four years at Texas. Foot injuries derailed his development, but he gained more exposure to NBA-level talent. Teammates included Tristan Thompson, Avery Bradley and Cory Joseph.
After Hill graduated, he pursued pro basketball for one year, then tried to get a job with the San Antonio Spurs. They pointed Hill to the Magic, who had just hired Spurs assistant Jacque Vaughn.
Hill showed immediate value as a “sparring partner” for centers in practice, he said. He slowly earned more responsibilities, striking a balance between “staying in your lane” and growing in the job.
“There’s a fine line there,” Hill said. “You don’t want to act like you know it all, but you don’t want to stand in the shadows.”
At 6-foot-10, Hill is too big to stand in the shadows. One year during a losing streak, the video crew put together clips of the coaches in their playing days. They included Hill’s famous Afro at Texas, which has become “a running joke around here.”
A joke that’s survived multiple regime changes.
Vaughn was fired in 2015, but Hill held on to his job. In 2016, Scott Skiles resigned after one year, giving way to Frank Vogel. Again, Hill held on. He’s now worked for the Magic longer than almost anyone around the team.
The silver lining of instability? Hill has absorbed three head coaching philosophies.
“It’s been a chance for me to sit back and distinguish what I like, what my style would be as a coach, what my demeanor’s going to be. I’ve been able to figure that out and kind of grow my voice.”
Five years ago, Hill wasn’t sure he’d enjoy the coaching life. Not as much as wearing a jersey. Now he realizes that failing to play professionally gave him a head start on a career that most 29-year-olds don’t have access to.
He’s embraced the grind of late nights and long seasons, living the bachelor life and walking to work, waiting until summer to come home to Lincoln.
He still stays in touch with Durant. Their teams meet twice a year and they trade text messages. Eleven years after their freshman summer, Durant is still setting the pace. Hill’s hope is that one day, he’ll chase down his old friend and earn his own championship.
This time he’ll be wearing a suit.