LAS VEGAS – Jeremiah Hill and John Petrucelli were two of the G League’s best 3-point shooters in 2018-19 while playing for the Lakeland Magic. Petrucelli, a 6-foot-4 guard, shot 44.2 percent from beyond the arc, tied for fifth best in the league with Lakeland teammate B.J. Johnson among players who attempted at least 100 threes. The 6-foot-2 Hill, meanwhile, made 56 triples coming off the bench, the 15th most among all reserves. What makes Petrucelli, 26, and Hill, 23, so unique compared to some of the other league’s top outside shooters is that neither of them ever had the opportunity to showcase their talents on college basketball’s biggest stages. That’s not because their teams weren’t good. In fact, quite the opposite, as the two helped lead their teams to highly successful seasons.
They are unique because they played at Division II schools – Hill at Valdosta State and Petrucelli at Molloy College – which makes their basketball journeys quite extraordinary. Both are hoping to prove to NBA teams during summer league action that they deserve a shot. With the way they each shot the ball from downtown on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, that certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. What helped both of them get to this point is what they each experienced between college and the G League. Hill spent a season in the American Basketball Association, playing for the Jacksonville Giants. It was a physical brand of basketball, he says, and that helped prepare him for NBA level competition.
“It was so physical. They allow a lot more pushing and it’s rough,” said Hill, who earned a spot on the Lakeland Magic last season as a local tryout participant. “I think that along with some of the older guys that are there, they helped me grow. They were putting everything into perspective of what I have, my opportunity, the window. It made me a little bit hungrier. So when I came into the tryout (for Lakeland) I was able to play my game.”
Petrucelli was originally drafted by the G League’s Maine Red Claws after college. He was cut, though, and decided to take his talents overseas, playing two seasons in Slovakia before returning to the G League and playing for the Erie BayHawks one year and then Lakeland the last two seasons. “It hasn’t been easy but I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s put a chip on my shoulder for sure. It’s allowed me to work way harder, having to prove myself at every level. Overseas really molded me and shaped me to then do the G League the following year. It’s just been an amazing journey looking back. I don’t think I would trade it for anything else and make it easier. The hard way is gritty, it’s a grind, but I enjoy it.”
Although it’s rare for Division II players to make it to the NBA, history tells us it’s within reach. A few all-time greats, as a matter of fact, played at Division II schools, including Sam Jones (North Carolina Central), Walt Frazier (Southern Illinois), Earl Monroe (Winston-Salem State), George Gervin (Eastern Michigan), Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas), Dennis Rodman (Southeastern Oklahoma State), Charles Oakley (Virginia Union) and Ben Wallace (Virginia Union). It is worth noting that some of those schools are now in Division I.
One of the Magic’s best players in franchise history came from a Division II school as well. Darrell Armstrong, who signed with Orlando as an undrafted free agent late in the 1995 season and played with the Magic until 2003 before bouncing around the league to finish out his playing career, starred at Fayetteville State.
Although getting to this point in and of itself is a major accomplishment for both Petrucelli and Hill, it’s clear they are not taking their feet off the gas pedal. By participating in summer league action, they have put themselves in position to showcase all that they can do, which stretches far beyond just perimeter shooting, even if that is their bread and butter.
“I can be a solid basketball player, a great teammate,” Petrucelli said. “I could hit the open corner shot or the open three at an efficient rate. I could make plays for my teammates and be a great team defender both on and off the ball.”
“I can pass, I can shoot, so that’s going to happen naturally but I want to show that I can be a presence on both ends,” Hill said about his improved defense that he hopes executives from NBA teams pay attention to throughout summer league week.