When he was hired in early July, Devin Hill knew he was taking over a Biloxi girls basketball program that doesn't have much in the way of tradition.
While he carried a reputation as a winner into his new job, Hill wasn't terribly confident he'd be able to inspire a quick turnaround for the Lady Indians when practice began in August.
“There were several days where we had to grind it out. The girls didn't want to be here and I didn't want to be here,” Hill said Wednesday. “We had to tolerate each other so we could get the job done.”
“If it was a daunting task I was looking for, it's definitely what I got.”
Fast forward seven months later, Biloxi is three wins away from the school's first girls basketball state championship.
The Lady Indians have earned their first trip to Jackson since 1986 and will play Tupelo at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the MHSAA Class 6A State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
‘The rest is history’
Hill, 31, has led Biloxi to a 23-9 mark in his first year on the job after the team went 11-17 in one season under Martha Bradley-Hall, who had the job on an interim basis.
Bradley-Hall remained on the staff as an assistant and the two have worked well together to lead Biloxi to its most successful season in over three decades.
Hill wasn't the first man hired to take over as the Biloxi head coach for the 2016-17 season. Former Olive Branch coach Blake Jones was hired away from Olive Branch, but he decided to step down in mid-June to go into private business after being hired on April 25.
Hill filled out an application for the Biloxi job before Jones was hired, but can't recall if ever he actually sent in his résumé. When Jones stepped down, he decided to go for it.
“When it opened the second time around, I remember having a conversation with my wife and we decided that maybe that's what the Lord wants us to do,” Hill said. “I remember my wife saying put in for it and let's just see what happens. I came down and interviewed. The rest is history.”
Before taking the job at Biloxi, Hill had stepped down following a successful run as the head coach at Itawamba AHS, where he went 74-24 in three seasons and won the 2014 Class 4A state title.
He decided to step back from being a head coach and was set to become an assistant at Olive Branch.
Instead, the Biloxi opening lured him back to becoming a head coach.
Hill inherited a team not lacking in talent. Senior Breanna Riley is one of the better guards on the Coast, averaging 13.0 points and 4.6 rebounds this season.
It wasn't easy early on for Hill to convince Riley and the rest of her teammates that his way of coaching was the right way.
“It took all fall,” Hill said. “We went through a lot of days where we had to plead with them, asking them to do something they're not used to doing. They were not used to working that hard.”
Hill is an intense and demanding coach who will let his players know what he thinks at all times during the course of a game.
“I tell everybody I'm the worst person in the world to try to come in after somebody else,” he said. “I've got my way of doing things and I believe in the way I do things. I'm very aggressive, very competitive. We took the long way around. It took all fall to grasp what we were doing.
“We were pulling weights, running outside in that South Mississippi summer heat. That's kind of played a big part in what we've been able to accomplish.”
Hill imposed his will early on the team, even challenging the talented Riley when she wasn't meeting his high bar during workouts.
“Bre was a leader, but not by choice,” Hill said. “She fell into that role when she came over. Our first assignment was to make sure Bre understands that she's not the most important person here, but she was the most important person.
“They saw me get on Bre pretty good. I told her she'd have to do it my way or go home. They kind of thought, 'If he'll do that to Bre, our best player, and then he'll treat everybody like this.' I have to be consistent with how we handle everybody.”
Riley has played well all season and several players have stepped up around her, including senior forward Anna Thigpen. She's had several double-doubles lately, including 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in last week's 55-38 win over Oak Grove to advance to the state quarterfinals.
“I think she's probably made the most progress out of anybody on our team,” Hill said. “It started with being aggressive. I think it started in August when we're outside in that heat. She had to fight. I told them all the time, 'The Mississippi sun is undefeated. It hasn't lost any battles. You've got to take the fight to it.' I think she has an asthma condition so she had to fight through that. That taught her to be a little tougher. The difference between Anna last year and Anna this year is she's mentally tough. That has a lot to do with our conditioning regimen.”
With three games remaining between Biloxi and a state title, Hill likes where his team stands.
“We have a good setup, a good setup,” he said. “We're in a good position to move on if we take care of business.”
Saturday contests featuring Coast teams in 6A quarterfinals in Jackson:
Harrison Central boys vs. Callaway, 1:30 p.m. (at Jackson State)
Biloxi girls vs. Tupelo, 7 p.m. (at Mississippi Coliseum)
Harrison Central girls vs. Starkville, 1:30 p.m. (at Mississippi Coliseum)