11/4/15 LSU vs Union: Womens Basketball

LSU junior guard Rina Hill (13) passes the ball around to her teammates in enemy territory during their 88-57 win against Union on Wednesday Nov. 4, 2015, in the LSU Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

Haskell Whittington

Junior Rina Hill is more than the starting point guard for the LSU women’s basketball team — she’s the team’s CEO.

Hill is the first Japanese national to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference and was named the starting point guard for the Lady Tigers before the start of the season. LSU coach Nikki Fargas recruited Hill and said she isn’t surprised she chose to major in business when she arrived in Baton Rouge.

“When Rina comes to practice, she has an agenda,” Fargas said. “She’s very organized and committed. She commands the same level of attention to detail as if she was running a company — as if she were the CEO or COO of her own company.”

Many of the Lady Tigers bought stock in Hill’s leadership abilities as soon as she stepped on the court. Hill might not be the most vocal player on the court, but the old saying rings true for the five-foot, seven-inch guard: Actions speak louder than words.

“I’m a lead by example type of leader,” Hill said. “I think leadership can’t be a part-time job.”

Hill found basketball at a young age after a friend invited her to join a team in Japan. She excelled in multiple sports, including tennis, swimming and gymnastics before deciding to focus on basketball.

While playing in Japan, Hill had trouble gaining the attention of college coaches in the United States. It was a family friend of Hill’s who came across a solution to expose Hill to collegiate coaches in America while surfing the Internet.

After finishing her final season of basketball in Japan, Hill transferred to IMG Academy, a private athletic training school in Bradenton, Florida.

IMG Academy brings in 12,000 children from 80 countries every year. The institute is responsible for training prep and professional athletes in almost every sport. NFL quarterback Eli Manning and former MLB MVP Andrew McCutchen both trained at the prestigious Florida powerhouse, and it was there that Fargas first saw Hill play.

In her senior season at IMG Academy, Hill scored 12.8 points per game to lead her school to a 42-8 record. She also led her team to seven victories over junior colleges during her time in Bradenton.

Fargas said Hill’s impressive work ethic made her believe she had what it takes to succeed in the NCAA.

“Watching her practice, you saw how hard she practiced,” Fargas said. “You knew that was something that gauged why she was going to be a possible starter. She worked so hard in practice that she made the games easy.”

Hill attributes her work ethic to her father, who’s fittingly a businessman. She said her father wakes up at 5 a.m. every day to work out before going to the office. Seeing her father’s discipline while she was growing up made her subconsciously work harder than most kids her age.

Before her Lady Tiger days are over, Hill said she wants to lead LSU to a Final Four appearance. If this year’s team puts the work in, it can make it to Indianapolis in April, Hill said.

When Hill’s career at LSU is over, she hopes to one day play for the Japanese National Team after competing as a member of Japan’s Under-18 National Team in the 2012 Asian World Championships. She then wants to open a school similar to IMG Academy but primarily for Asian athletes to gain exposure to American basketball.

Fargas said Hill’s mentality on the court reminds her of a 10-time WNBA All-Star and Olympic gold medalist that she coached while she was a graduate assistant at the University of Tennessee.

“I haven’t necessarily seen a player that plays like Rina Hill, but I’ve been around a player that brings that toughness and the ‘I’m going to have less quit in me’ — that’s Tamika Catchings,” Fargas said. “She’s about as close to that, that I’ve seen in a long time.”

Hill approaches the game of basketball as if she’s at the helm of a Fortune 500 company. It’s the reason many of her teammates respect her on and off the court.

She took a risk leaving her native country of Japan to chase her dream of playing American basketball, but her hard work paid off through her first two fiscal years as a Tiger.

“She’s by far the hardest working player on our team and one of the hardest working players I’ve ever coached,” Fargas said. “Rina embodies what it means to be a student athlete.”

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