Hoping to continue his basketball career close to home, the timing just wasn't right for Isaiah Hill in his first cycle through the college recruiting process.
Hill, who scored a school-record 1,822 points at Liberty High School, felt a strong connection with Fresno State coach and fellow Bakersfield native Justin Hutson, who made a strong push for Hill when he landed the job with the Bulldogs in April of 2018.
But in the months prior to Hutson's hire, Hill had also bonded with coaches from the University of Tulsa, forming a connection that led to him committing to the program in August of 2018.
“I had built a relationship with them sooner than I did with Fresno because coach Hutson had gotten the job a little late," Hill said. "I was kind of in tune with them and had a great relationship with them already.”
On the court, all seemed well during a promising freshman season, where Hill played a key role on a Golden Hurricane team that claimed a share of the American Athletic Conference regular season title. In 31 games, he averaged 4.2 points and was second on the team with 69 assists.
And while nothing was necessarily wrong, something did feel off. Having grown accustomed to playing in front of a vocal cheering section of friends and family, Hill didn't have such a luxury playing nearly 1,500 miles from Bakersfield.
Feelings of homesickness only intensified with recent events. As the coronavirus scare began to intensify, Hill needed a change, and in late March, he put his name in the transfer portal with hopes of being near friends and family.
From the start, he had a specific landing spot in mind.
“If Fresno was going to offer me, I kind of knew that’s where I wanted to go," Hill said. "If they had a spot for me, I was almost positive that is where I was going to be.”
Luckily for Hill, the interest was mutual, as Hutson called him the day he announced his intentions to transfer. He officially committed to Fresno State on April 1.
Having added three Valley players to his roster for the 2020-21 season, Hutson says Hill checks many of the boxes he looks for in a prospect.
"We want to recruit as many good players as we can from the Valley," Hutson said. "And he fits the mold. He can do everything. He can score it, he can assist, he can guard. He can do a lot of different things and he can do them at a high level."
Hill says the local connection with Hutson, who starred at Bakersfield High before winning Division-II national titles at Cal State Bakersfield in 1993 and 94, made the decision to come to Fresno all the easier.
“For him being from Bakersfield, making it that far, it’s tremendous," he said. A lot of people don’t put respect on Bakersfield, especially the basketball standpoint of it. So just seeing his accomplishments, it says something about him for sure.”
The next time he takes part in a home game, Hill says it will be a welcome sight to see parents Damon and Jill and several other family members in attendance. He also hopes to be a regular at Fresno Pacific games, where his brother Elijah Hill will be a senior on the Sunbirds' men's basketball team next year.
The only issue seems to be when his first game action will occur. While he's filed a waiver for immediate eligibility, there's a good chance Hill will have to sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules.
Though hoping to avoid missing time, Hill says a year on the sideline is a price he'd be willing to pay.
"Of course I want to play. But this is where I want to be, so I can take sitting out a year if that's where my heart's at," he said. "It feels like I'm at home. It's just a great atmosphere and I can't wait to get it started."