To hear members of the men’s basketball team talk about Josh Hill ’05, you would almost not realize that he is gone. The casual present-tense rhetoric they use to describe the kindness and enthusiasm characteristic of Yale’s No. 25 would have you believe he had the team in hysterics on their most recent road trip. But stories and memories — and the patches on their jerseys that read “25 JH” — are all that the team has left to remember the power forward and center from Delaware.
“Josh Hill is by far one of the funniest human beings I’ve ever met,” captain Alex Gamboa ’05 said. “There’s no way you can replace someone like that. I’m missing out on memories. I know he would be saying funny things … he’s just a great guy. He’s so funny and he brought so much to the team off the court in terms of a sense of company, and stability as well.”
The 6-foot-7 Hill was planning to return to Yale for a fifth year in the fall of 2004 after missing most of the 2002-2003 season and all of the 2003-2004 season with a hernia. But soon after school let out in the spring of 2004, Hill was killed in a car accident in Estelle Manor, N.J. Though they are still reeling from the shock of his sudden and tragic death, the Elis have found ways to remember both the strength of Hill’s playing skills and his much-loved personality.
With a young roster of Bulldogs for the 2004-2005 season, head coach James Jones was looking to Hill as a leader and as inspiration for his less-experienced teammates.
Since the younger players on the team never got to compete alongside Hill, Jones said, they cannot imagine what they are missing.
“I think that we have Josh on our minds no matter what,” Jones said. “We miss his play on the court as well. He was a kid who had a great deal of experience, and we were looking for his experience.”
Gamboa said the team could have used Hill’s energy and enthusiasm on the court in the first half of the Bulldogs’ game against Fairfield University Jan. 5, when the team started out flat.
“A guy like Josh Hill — if you put him in the game he’ll bring the heat, and it’s contagious with him,” Gamboa said.
Many of the players recounted the story of Hill’s first practice back after time off due to an injury. The team was practicing in South Carolina over Christmas break, and instead of allowing a loose ball to fly into the stands, Hill went for it, re-injuring himself in the process.
“Being the kind of player he was, he dove into the stands,” Martin said. “He went horizontal into the stands and injured his elbow. But he was very passionate about the game and a very intense person. He was willing to get the loose balls, and he provided that spark.”
But it was Hill’s attitude and witty remarks that the team seems to miss the most.
“It’s been tough, especially with the young team that we have,” Gamboa said. “He would have been a great symbol of toughness, and that our team can laugh from time to time. He gives you that.”
At the start of the season, the players and coaches decided to dedicate their achievements to Hill, center Dominick Martin ’06 said. Martin added that Hill is often on the minds of the players during games and practice.
“Maybe [we’re not thinking about him] in every single play of every game, but it’s the underlying statement as a whole,” Martin said. “We talk about him pretty often. He’s definitely a reoccurring theme.”
In addition to the patch with Hill’s number and initials every Eli wears, Hill’s locker remains as it was the last time he touched it. And because Hill was an advocate of many community service projects, the team participated in a Christmas gift giveaway this holiday season.
But the team does not need these formalities to remember the player they knew so well.
Remembering Hill is a happy thing for the team, guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said, because of his affable nature and frequent off-color comments.
“His name comes up about things he would have enjoyed or things he liked to do — day to day remembrance like that,” Draughan said. “How he would talk about certain things or little jokes that he made.”
Draughan added that given the frequency with which Hill is mentioned, the younger players cannot help but know who Hill was.
The Bulldogs have also kept in close contact with Hill’s mother, who was recently able to move to Las Vegas thanks to the Josh Hill Memorial Fund. Gamboa said he speaks with her a few times a month, and Jones said the team is flying her to New Haven for Senior Week in March. Not only will the team honor its seniors, it will also pay tribute to the great player and great friend it lost in May.
While the team always puts up a strong front and tries to “win games for Josh,” there is no denying that this is an especially difficult season for the Bulldogs. Gamboa said he attempts to remember Hill by playing the way Hill would, and that Hill is a great motivating factor for the team.
But despite all the team’s memories of No. 25, Josh Hill himself is gone.
“It’s random when I think of him,” Gamboa said. “It comes up a lot. It was harder this week because it was his birthday, and being out in California [to compete with the team over winter break] and seeing his mom and relatives was hard … It’s off and on. There are times when you’re living your life and you’re so busy that it’s not crossing your mind, but then all of a sudden it hits you hard. Like his locker’s still there. His name is still up and it’s empty. That’s when it hits me.”