COLLEGE PARK—Long before he began recruiting future NBA No. 2 draft pick Michael Beasley for Kansas State, Dalonte Hill said he grasped something important about the player's personality.
Beasley, Hill noticed, wasn't responding well to college coaches' incessant pitches — to all the phone calls and letters certain to find their way to young basketball prodigies such as Beasley.
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Four years after Beasley followed Hill to Kansas State, it may be hard for basketball fans to imagine that a powerhouse recruiter such as Hill — who currently commands a $300,000-per-year salary as a Maryland assistant and would like one day to be a head coach — could be so understated. Hill said the secret to recruiting is to scout and demonstrate attention to prospects early — eighth grade is not too soon — develop trust over time, and not make the common mistake of overwhelming them with basketball talk.
Hill may be understated, but he is well-known in basketball circles, especially these days. Long regarded as one of the sport's best — and best-paid — recruiters, his longtime relationship with Beasley places him at the periphery of a legal battle in Montgomery County between Beasley and sports agent Joel Bell.
Beasley has accused Bell in a civil suit of teaming with Curtis Malone — co-founder of D.C. Assault — to ultimately secure for Bell the right to represent Beasley. Bell had earlier accused Beasley of breach of contract, saying the player dropped him before he got his financial due. The legal filings, reported by the Washington Post, contain allegations that Beasley's family received improper benefits during the period before Beasley turned pro.
Hill, a 6-foot-5 former UNC-Charlotte guard and assistant coach, is not a party to Beasley's counter-suit, nor are there allegations leveled against Hill in the document.
But at the least, his association with Beasley means Maryland — whose president and athletic director pride themselves on a clean image in recruiting — may be asked questions about Hill and his prior relationship with Beasley. Hill has said in the media and to others that he did not know of any improper benefits to Beasley's family.
Beasley, who lived in Prince George's County and played for a number of high schools, had originally planned to play for Hill at Charlotte. When Hill was hired by Kansas State, becoming one of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the nation, Beasley followed.
Hill disputed the notion that his hiring by Kansas State guaranteed that the Wildcats would land Beasley for the 2007-08 season.
"When I left from Charlotte to go to Kansas State, he actually decommitted from Charlotte and I think he was close to going to Memphis — and Texas, maybe. I just think he had to take his time," Hill said in an Oct. 25 interview. "He had a built a great relationship with Coach [Bob] Huggins and he had built a great relationship with Coach [Frank] Martin. So it wasn't just me."
Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon declined to address the Hill-Beasley connection. But Turgeon offered unqualified support of Hill, who is involved in recruiting, scouting upcoming opponents and working with Terps guards on basketball techniques.
"To me, I've gotten to know a young guy that's very respectful, very smart, very hard-working. And he knows his position on the staff," Turgeon said. "I can't be more pleased with Dalonte."
Hill, married with three young daughters, took a pay cut to come to Maryland and makes $300,000 a year, according to multiple sources. In September 2010, the Kansas City Star reported that Hill's annual salary with the Wildcats had been increased to $423,750.
Hill said he had been looking to return to the Washington area. "Georgetown has had success and obviously Maryland had success, and I didn't know where I was going to land," he said. "I knew I had to keep strong recruiting ties here in this area for me to be successful here."
"The obvious thing is he has connections on the East Coast," said Turgeon, hired from Texas A&M in May to replace the now-retired Gary Williams. "He's a young guy that has great people skills."
Hill was a quiet presence at a recent Terps practice, standing underneath the basket wearing a white, long-sleeve Maryland T-shirt and black shorts. At an open scrimmage the next week, it was assistant coach Scott Spinelli, not Hill, who shouted out many of the instructions.
"He doesn't really yell at us," center Berend Weijs said of Hill. "He gives us the tiny details from when he played, like what he learned."
Maryland's hiring of Hill was praised by national recruiting analysts. The hiring increased Maryland's presence at summer tournaments and other events often attended by the nation's best high school talent.
In interviews, multiple coaches said such events are often attended by third parties claiming to represent top players and hoping for compensation to steer players to a particular college. "So many shady things happen, but I won't comment on that stuff," one coach said.
Former Florida State assistant coach Andy Enfield, a well-regarded recruiter who is now the coach at Florida Gulf Coast, said: "In certain situations, college coaches get approached by individuals that want something in return. A lot of times those certain individuals don't have any influence on the player at all. The staffs I've been on, we've never dealt with those individuals. It's pretty easy to stay clean."
Hill said the media is obsessed with the perception that Amateur Athletic Union coaches or players have their hands out.
"They don't report the mid-major kids that go and get their degree — that's not interesting for your readers," Hill said. "If one college cheats or a university cheats to get a kid, they don't say the whole college athletics is bad. But somehow AAU kind of gets that rap. They forget about the normal kid that's using basketball to further his career and get into his profession after basketball."
Asked if Maryland could one day land a player of Beasley's basketball caliber, Hill replied: "That'd be awesome. That would make it easier for the next guy to say, 'I do.'"