On the day he was drafted, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked to clarify whether he thought George Hill, who had just been taken with the team's top draft pick, could really be a valuable contributor to the veteran team.
"That's why I said that I think he can contribute right away," said a confident Popovich. "Because I think he can hit the ground running."
This soon into the season may not have been the "right away" as Popovich imagined, but it's reality. With news that Tony Parker will be shelved for at least a month with a self-inflicted ankle injury, the Spurs are counting on Hill to step in an help.
"It's a great opportunity, and I think I'm ready to step up and take the challenge," said Hill. But even he admits he didn't think the call to action would come this early.
"Not with a player like Tony Parker," said Hill. "Who knew that I'd come in as a rookie and be put in the position to lead this team and this organization as we try to get back on track?"
Asked how he might mesh with Tim Duncan, the team's only remaining All-Star not hampered by injuries, Hill acknowledges there's still a learning curve for him.
"I'm still learning," said Hill. "I'm a young player, there's a lot to learn out here. He's used to Tony, so it's a different story when he has a rookie throwing him the ball, but you have a different organization here. Great teammates, he tells you. He walks you through everything. How he likes this or that and what he thinks I should do in different situations, so I can't go wrong with that."
Finally making an appearance in his first regular-season game (after sitting out with his own injury), the rookie scored eleven points in fifteen minutes of play. That performance impressed not only his fans, but his coach.
"I thought he did great," said Popovich. "He did his best of trying to get into his first NBA game as much as he could. He's got great composure, mentally and physically. He's a tough kid. I was pleased with what he did."
Still, the Spurs' staff are trying to make sure they set reasonable expectations upon on the rookie's shoulders. They like his confidence—something they haven't seen in too many other young point guards of the past—but they realize that this may be a big elephant that Hill has to chew one bite at a time.
"I think it's always a learning process," says Spurs' general manager, R.C. Buford. "People have been encouraged, our group has been encouraged, the guys he's played with have been encouraged with what George has done to date, but I don't think anyone has any expectations that he's going to walk in and fill Tony's shoes right off the bat.
"Especially given the way Tony's been playing, this will be a great opportunity for George and Pop to grow together, for Pop to put him in situations that you can't simulate in practice or in limited minutes."
Asked if he was worried that veteran Jacques Vaughn might be called on to start, or might wind up playing more minutes than he would be, Hill says he doesn't care.
"I think the overall goal here is to win games and win championships. I don't get caught up in whose starting and whose coming off the bench. I just want to win."
As for trying hard to fill Tony Parker's shoes, Hill has his own mindset.
"You can't do Tony. Tony is Tony and he's a great player. I don't think I can be anything like Tony. I can just take care of what I can do and control what I can control, but I will step up. I like a challenge and I like to work hard. I think it's going to be a great opportunity."
More on Hill and the Spurs at SpursReport.Com