X Factors: San Francisco’s Corey Hilliard


For a long time, the WCC has been very top heavy. Gonzaga owned it for many years. Eventually Saint Mary’s emerged to make it a two horse race. When BYU joined the conference it became a three team affair as they slid into the second spot right between the Bulldogs and Gaels. Since then, very rarely does another team come out of the lower ranks to disrupt this hierarchy.

San Francisco fearlessly bucked that trend last year with a breakout season. The Dons burst onto the scene with a 13-5 record in conference play, good for a tie with BYU for second place and ahead of the Gaels. They completely pulled away from the rest of the pack as they did not lose a single WCC game to anyone not named the Bulldogs, Cougars, or Gaels. Their only double digit losses in WCC play came to Gonzaga, and they pushed BYU in the WCC Tournament nearly knocking off the Cougars in the semifinals.

This year, the Dons might amazingly be even better. When a team comes out nowhere like that, it’s tempting to assume they just put everything together for one year and will go right back to normal. But Rex Walters has assembled a stacked roster highlighted by maybe the best frontcourt in the conference.

Talented forwards Mark Tollefsen and Kruize Pinkins are back, and they will be assisted by two high-profile transfers who are becoming eligible. Uche Ofoegbu will give the Dons another talented forward, and 6-10 center Derrell Robertson will add a big presence n the middle that could be huge in a conference full of talented big men like Brad Waldow and Prezemek Karnowski.

March 10, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco Dons guard Matt Glover (5) dribbles against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With so much talent down low, the key could be the play of the guards and how they support those big men by providing assists and relieving them of some of the scoring duties. In this regard, the Dons suffered a huge loss when Avry Holmes decided to transfer. He was one of the leading scorers on the team, and finished second in assists by a large margin.

The Dons do return Matt Glover who led the team in assists last season, but there is now a hole next to him in the lineup. That is the key area that needs to be filled, and our X Factor could be the answer.

Corey Hilliard originally played at Nebraska but saw little time on the court. He came to the Dons after a year at community college and made his USF debut last season. He wasn’t able to make much of an impact however as an injury ended his season just nine games in.

With Cody Doolin having abruptly left the team, he would have been a valuable piece behind Glover and Holmes. Now with Holmes gone too, it’s Hilliard’s chance to show what he can do when he’s healthy.

Hilliard is mainly a scorer, and he averaged over 17 points per game back in high school. But he also has the potential to fill up the stat sheet with rebounds and assists. His upside is a guy who can put up double digit points per game while adding 3-5 assists and the same number of rebounds. The Dons would gladly take that from their fifth starter behind Glover and their big frontcourt.

An effective Hilliard would allow Glover to focus on creating opportunities for the guys around him, and that will make everyone better from Hilliard to the big men down low. And it would allow the Dons to recreate some of what they are losing without Holmes.

It’s been a tough road for Hilliard between injuries and jumping to different schools, but with a year at USF under his belt and lots of time to recover from his injury this could be his shot. Sources say he is working very hard in practice and pushing to be named a starter. The talent is there, and if he can find his way into the lineup and do well he would complete what is a very dangerous roster.

The Dons would probably prefer not to have a guard problems and be rotating through various options all year, especially if Glover is injured or playing poorly. And there isn’t much depth behind Glover anyway, so even when he’s healthy having a reliable mate in the backcourt is big.

If Hilliard can finally live up to his potential and help carry the backcourt like Holmes did alongside Glover, it changes the dynamic of the Dons completely. Hilliard doesn’t need to be Holmes, he just needs to do enough to let the rest of the starters do their thing. We think he’s up to the task.