Though the cast of characters has changed in the past four years, Irmo remains a mainstay at the top of Class 4A.
The Yellow Jackets have won two of the past three state championships, and fashioned a 106-8 record over a four-year span. They’re making another trip to the semifinals when they face Hillcrest on Friday at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville in the Upper State title game.
The team is led by a trio of seniors – Xavier Hill, Jevante Gross and Javis Howard – who combine for 10 years of varsity experience.
Hill is following in the footsteps of his father, Kent. The elder Hill starred at Newberry High before going on to join the 1,000-point club at The Citadel. Kent Hill graduated in 1988.
Hill didn’t become a regular starter until this season, but the transition has been seamless.
“It’s a situation where Xavier had an opportunity as a junior to play within his comfort zone and do what he needed to do,and do what he did best because of the cast around him,” Irmo coach Tim Whipple said. “We talked in the off-season on how he needed to emerge as a leader of this team and he has. He’s an incredible young man.”
In previous years, Hill played behind Jordan Roper and Justin McKie, who are currently at Clemson and South Carolina, respectively. Hill stayed the course and appreciated the opportunity that was afforded each day in practice.
“The practices are so intense and upbeat where you do everything the same,” Hill said. “Even though you might not be playing in the games as much, you’re ready when that transition comes.
“It’s always been fun going to practice and going against the best players in the state. You have no choice but to get better. It’s a big help.”
Having his father to lean on has also been a bonus. Though Hill was coming off the bench the previous two seasons, Kent Hill wanted to make sure his son was putting in the work to get better.
He saw to it that Xavier worked on his game away from regular practice time. He also had to preach that he had to wait his turn, but be ready when his opportunity presented itself.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to teach Xavier is you have to have the work ethic,” Kent Hill said. “You can get by on talent alone sometimes, but as the level of competition increases, you have to be able to put the work in.
“You have to do that outside of practice and get your extra work in. Everyone thinks they’re good enough to play, but sometimes you have to wait your turn. He played behind some great players in Roper and McKie.”
Xavier has embraced the advice of his father.
“After every game he critiques me because he knows the game so well,” Xavier said. “He’s played a lot of different positions so his knowledge of the game is a real asset.”
Whipple said the reward of watching Hill grow over the past three years has been a pleasue.
“To me, when I think of Irmo basketball I like to think of kids like Xavier,” Whipple said. “He represents our entire school, family, and team with a great deal of integrity. I’m extremely proud of him.”