Michigan's Naz Hillmon — given 'young queen' status by LeBron James — deserves your attention

·5 min read

Naz Hillmon has long deserved the basketball world’s attention. Her historic performance for No. 11 Michigan in a Big Ten rivalry was only the latest wake-up call.

Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James got it.

Hillmon scores historic 50 points for Michigan

Hillmon scored an incredible 50 points for Michigan in a 81-77 loss to No. 17 Ohio State on Thursday night. It’s a record for most points scored by a Michigan player, man or woman, and is the most scored by a women’s Division I player this season.

The total is the second time the 50-point mark has been reached by a Big Ten women’s player.

Her 50 points on 20-for-30 shooting — none of which came from beyond the arc — were 65 percent of the team’s output and that wasn’t her only contribution. She added 16 rebounds, 10 of which were on the offense end, and one block. It was her seventh double-double of the season and she is only the second Division I player in the last two decades with at least 50 points and 15 rebounds.

James gives Hillmon ‘young queen’ shoutout

James, the four-time NBA champion and Finals MVP, gave Hillmon, one of 30 finalists for the Wooden Award, a shoutout on his Instagram story.

James, a noted Ohio State fan, tagged the junior in a graphic of her statistics and wrote, “Monster!! Keep going young queen!!”

Women basketball players do not need affirmation from men’s players to be great. They are great, and will continue to be great, without any accolades from their male peers. But for a plethora of reasons, women’s players are usually doing their work without the same fanfare as the men.

So when an all-time great like James gives them that attention and room in a place where millions are following them, it’s notable. It’s an achievement and an opportunity to introduce more basketball fans to, well, more basketball that they might not be watching.

James has given the same applause and crown to NCAA triple-double queen Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick by the New York Liberty in the 2020 WNBA draft.

Hillmon leads Big Ten POY conversation

Michigan Wolverines forward Naz Hillmon (00) reacts after scoring against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of an NCAA basketball game on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Notre Dame, Ind. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Michigan Wolverines forward Naz Hillmon scored 50 points in a stellar double-double. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Hillmon, a 6-foot-2 forward from Cleveland, Ohio, was voted the co-Big Ten Player of the Year by coaches and is a favorite for the end-of-season award. The loss against Ohio State (8-1, 4-1) was the first of the season for Michigan (10-1, 5-1), which has its best start and highest ranking in program history.

Michigan hosts Purdue on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.

Hillmon, the 2019 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Sixth Woman of the Year, ranks third in Division I in scoring at 26.1 points per game after Thursday’s performance. Going into the matchup she averaged 23.7, still a top-15 mark. She’s also one of the nation’s best on the boards, now ranking sixth with 12.3 per game.

That she dropped 50 is eye-opening, but not shocking. It was only two weeks ago Hillmon had 35 points and 22 rebounds (13 offensively) against Nebraska. She shot 15-for-23, but went 5-of-10 from the free throw line.

Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico, a 19-year veteran of Division I hoops, noted that output and how unbelievable it was anyone would let her do such a thing again. Via MLive.com:

“Naz had an incredible individual performance. I’ve coached some really great players in my time, and no, I’ve never seen a performance like that,” Barnes Arico said. “I mean, she was pretty good against Nebraska when she had 35 and 22, and I think most people thought, ‘Man, that will never happen again.’

“How is that ever going to happen again when she’s circled on the top of everybody’s scouting report? They double-team her, triple-team, do whatever [they] have to do, and she still managed to do that. She was in that kind of refuse-to-lose mentality, and what a special night from an incredible player.”

Basketball is in Hillmon’s lineage. Her mother, NaSheema, played for Vanderbilt and the Nashville Noise of the American Basketball League.

NCAA players to watch

Hillmon’s big night came amid a flurry of strong performances on a packed schedule of women’s college games. It was a showing of what will be even better in the coming years.

No. 3 Connecticut prevailed against No. 25 Tennessee in what’s currently the last scheduled game between the two rivals. Sensational freshman Paige Bueckers came back in for the final minutes after tweaking her ankle and hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to seal the game despite a quiet night of production.

South Carolina sophomore Aliyah Boston added a second triple-double to her resume, making her the only South Carolina player with multiple of them. She had 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks for the fourth-ranked Gamecocks against No. 22 Georgia. It’s the eighth triple-double in program history and first against an SEC opponent.

No. 1 Louisville defended its new ranking behind six 3-pointers from freshman Hailey Van Lith, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in the win against No. 23 Syracuse. The Orange have their own promising freshman in Kamilla Cardoso, who had a 13-point, 11-rebound double-double.

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