For quite a few Mount Vernon teens, the way out was basketball.
Hill counts among his mentors former NBA players Gus Williams and Scooter and Rodney McCray.
Other notable basketball names from Mount Vernon are the Charlotte Bobcats’ Ben Gordon, the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and former West Virginia standout Kevin Jones.
Hill knows all about the outward edge that Cousins displayed.
“Coming from where we come from, sometimes trust is the hardest issue,” Hill said. “You can’t always let your guard down in New York. It’s a cutthroat city. You’ve got to have a hard edge. It takes time for them to trust and now as he’s trusting the system, he’s understanding what Coach Kruger and I and what we’re telling him is true and he’s seeing it with his very eyes, he’s let down his guard some.
“It’s like we’ve got a big brick wall there and we just chisel it out and it just starts falling apart. He’s just understanding that you can have fun. Everything ain’t a grind. Everything ain’t being mad at somebody. There’s people out here you can trust. There’s people out here that do love you. There’s people out here who want to see you do good.”
Hill started building that trust on recruiting visits. Cousins’ mother went to school at Mount Vernon around the same time Hill was there, though they didn’t know each other. One of Cousins’ mentors is a guy Hill mentored when he was coming up.
“I’m more like a father figure to him,” Hill said. “Just teaching him how to make it — how to be the best player he can be and the best person he can be and he’s really, really growing in all those areas.
“It’s not just about basketball because if basketball is all I could give him then I’m no good for him. I’ve got to give him life lessons that I messed up on that I can help him with. I just want to be a person that he can trust, that he can talk to about anything.”
While most everyone else on the team has family within a few hours of Norman — Buddy Hield of the Bahamas has a brother in Arkansas and D.J. Bennett of Chicago has a brother who goes to OU — Cousins’ family in Norman is Hill.
“He’s been a great influence,” Cousins said. “He helps me and he understands what it’s like growing up and being from Mount Vernon.
“I’m far away from home so it’s pretty good to have someone here to bring that feeling of home to me.”