Nine years ago this month I attended a memorable graduation ceremony honoring the class of 2004 at Georgetown Preparatory High School in Rockville, Maryland. My nephew graduated that day. Georgetown Prep ranks among America's more prestigious, academically challenging, and well-known boys private high schools.

During the awards ceremony, one graduating senior won the honor for improving the most academically from his freshman to senior year. The student was Roy Hibbert, the school's best basketball player. I respect guys who improve over extended periods of time especially in the academic arena, where competition burns hot and learning tough concepts is one of life's most difficult challenges. Hitting the books, Hibbert toughed it out over those four years, obviously, and proved his determination. He got better at studying, learning, and taking tests-better than the rest of his classmates. Well done.

Hibbert played four years of basketball at the school. Not by any stretch, however, did he dazzle Division I scouts with his supreme athletic gifts.  He was not named to the McDonalds All American team, an exclusive group of senior basketball players who rank among the top 25 in the nation. In fact, his high school basketball career could be described as uneventful and somewhat underwhelming. A good player with upside potential, there were several holes in his game especially foot dexterity and quickness compounded by mediocre athleticism. The truth is Hibbert doesn't move like a typical star basketball. He's not all that fluid and is a bit clumsy.

Yet because of his extraordinary 6 foot 10 inch size, he qualified as a legitimate Division 1 prospect and accepted a scholarship to Georgetown University. During those four years, Hibbert again showed promise and grit but did not get named to any All American teams. At Georgetown he was a good player, not great. He graduated from that fine American university-good for him-in 2008.

Next the NBA's Indiana Pacers selected him without much fanfare. A big man with potential but-to use a derogatory term to describe a tall basketball player-he amounted to a project.

Now look at how this project has been progressing.

Last night in the NBA Eastern Conference finals, the big man scored 23 points and snatched 12 rebounds to lift his team to a major victory, 99-92, over the highly favored Miami Heat.  Hibbert has arrived at the highest levels of the basketball world. He's not LeBron James or Kevin Durant talent-wise and never will be. But he's become effective and sometimes dominant. In the NBA few true big men who play the center position remain because the league has become much more about quick and talented forwards and guards. Hibbert is a gigantic dinosaur in a league once dominated by behemoth dinosaurs in the 1960s and 70s. Recall Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Although not the prettiest basketball player, Hibbert now shows some nice basketball skill. I like his left-handed jump hook move close to the basket. He's right handed so obviously has worked hard to fine-tune that shot.  He also has a nice baseline jumper from 8 to 10 feet. Defensively, he's an unafraid towering force who can swat shots.

A big man lacking pizazz and superstar talent, you wouldn't have found anyone who saw him in high school predict he would become as effective player as he has even at the college level, never mind in the NBA and now on the biggest stage. To say he's accomplished something miraculous would be a slight stretch but not by much. Think of all the McDonalds All Americans his senior year who have not risen to become the player he has. He got bypassed back then and now he's bypassed virtually all of them. You have to love a guy who takes an insult, is told he's not all that good, and then out-practices and out-wants his competitors to become more successful-and therefore more admirable-than them. Only his hard work could have lifted him to this performance level.

During college he had to hear all the hype about then University of North Carolina College Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough. Now you're hearing a lot more about Hibbert. With the Pacers Hansbrough has been relegated to a bench player, not nearly as important nor effective as Hibbert, a key starter.

Roy Hibbert gives inspiration to me now as he did on his high school graduation day. You don't hear him talking trash, touting his accomplishments. In his admirable way, he worked hard at improving his craft. For that-and the way he's overcome slights about his ability-he deserves praise and is well-worth emulating.




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