George Hill held a captive audience Wednesday afternoon.
The Kings point guard had an open discussion with students at Encina High School, where 18 of them huddled around in the library, hinging on every word. They debated life issues and what they could do about it.
Hill has adopted the campus for this season to serve as a mentor and sounding board, a player-driven initiative to connect with diverse schools in the community. Kings teammate Garrett Temple has similarly adopted Sacramento High School, holding town-hall meetings and attending sporting events.
Wednesday’s forum with Hill ranged in topics from race and discrimination, to personal experiences, to President Donald Trump, to what troubles and inspires the students on a campus that was founded in 1958.
Hill said schools with diverse student bodies tend to get overlooked. Encina is 37 percent Latino, 29 percent black and 21 percent white.
Hill, whose fiancée Samantha Garcia is Latina, talked about his challenges with race growing up in a hard-scrabble neighborhood in Indianapolis. He said his best friend as a child was white and “never saw race, never had a filter.” Kane Watson is still Hill’s best friend – the message being that friendships can last a lifetime if no one sees race as a barrier.
Hill also stressed that “anything is possible” if one applies themselves and that nothing beats hard work. Hill attended Division I mid-major IUPUI and was drafted in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs in 2008.
The Encina discussion was headed by Galen Duncan, the Kings vice president of player development and Kings Academy.
“Kids love it when you’re real, and that’s George,” Duncan said.
Said Hill later, “You have to be honest with kids. In the world we live in today, we need more of that. If we can develop the youth mindset that it makes no difference what color you are, what shape or size you are, or what beliefs you have, we’re all people.
“Touching kids’ lives is important for Garrett and me. I’m no different than these kids. I grew up in a similar neighborhood. We want to have building blocks.”
Temple was scheduled to meet with Sacramento High students this week but had to postpone after undergoing oral surgery Wednesday.
The Kings have done some of their best work off the court, outside the arena and in the community.
Temple has already made an impact at the Oak Park school with previous visits. He has vowed to donate money to the school for computers.
DeMarcus Cousins often visited Sacramento High before he was traded from the Kings to New Orleans, and he donated funds that resulted in gym upgrades in addition to hosting free basketball camps in the summer.
“We appreciate Garrett big time,” Sacramento boys basketball coach Earl Allen said. “He’s taken the celebrity part out of it, even though he’s a celebrity. When he comes and talks to our students, we’re having an adult conversation. It’s not, ‘I’m Garrett Temple, Kings player.’ It’s, ‘I’m Garrett Temple and I’m talking to you real.’
“He’s not a celebrity being nice. He offers honest opinions. He’s very cut and dry like that, and we know he’s not doing some required community time. He’s doing it because he cares, and we love it.”