A parking lot, street and chain-link fence separate talent-rich Idaho boys basketball programs Post Falls High and Genesis Prep.
That and about 1,400 students.
Carroll College-bound guard Jonny Hillman – the mainstay for two-time defending 1A Division II champion Genesis Prep – wasn’t interested in the big-school experience.
His three older brothers – Michael, Matt and Zach Hillman – starred at neighboring Post Falls before continuing their respective athletic careers at Eastern Oregon, Northwestern (Iowa) and Whitworth.
Jonny, the youngest of longtime Post Falls physical therapist and former Pacific Lutheran tight end Dave Hillman’s four sons, chose to stay at the small K-12 Christian school.
“(In junior high), my parents let me make the decision to stay at Genesis Prep or attend Post Falls,” said Hillman, whose third-ranked Jaguars (15-8) face Salmon River (21-5) on Thursday in the first round of the 1A Division II State tournament at Caldwell High.
“I like the culture here. It’s faith-based, a school where the smart kid and the jock can be friends, because everyone is close.’
The school’s then-fledgling athletic program was also in the process of a big move.
Hillman’s freshman season coincided with Genesis Prep’s first year in the Idaho High School Activities Association, a membership that placed the Jaguars in the North Star League with Wallace, Lakeside, Clark Fork, Kootenai and Mullan.
This was the first coup for coach Marsell Colbert.
“When Jonny stayed, that was the foundation of what we were building,” said Colbert, a former assistant coach at North Idaho College and Post Falls. “His ability, character, basketball IQ and leadership have been big for us these last few years.”
Hillman led the North Star League in scoring all four years, spearheading the Jaguars’ third-place finish in 2016 and before taking home state titles in 2017 and 2018.
Hillman was named the 1A Division II Player of the Year in 2017.
“He attacks the rim, hits the midrange jump shot, locks down the opposing team’s best guard,” Colbert said of Hillman. “There isn’t another player in North Idaho I’d take over him.”
Carroll head coach Kurt Paulson saw Hillman play on the Eastern Washington Elite, an AAU club that features some of the top talent in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
“We love that he can stretch the defense from the 3-point line. He also can guard,” said Paulson, whose Saints are ranked No. 9 in the latest NAIA poll.
“His combination of 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds as a high school guard, with 25-foot range to go with his academic success, makes him a huge get for our program.”
Hillman is aiming for a three-peat with a relatively young starting five, a group that includes one foreign player in 6-9 center Kon Ajang.
The IHSAA ruled in 2017 that F-1 Visa International and Foreign Exchange students couldn’t compete in the postseason, a vote that followed complaints from some of Genesis Prep’s opponents.
Genesis Prep appealed the decision, which the IHSAA reversed last year.
Locals like Hillman have been key in Genesis Prep’s rise, Colbert said, and the perception that his program boasts a roster full of international ringers has been exaggerated.
“There was a rumor that I transferred in from Canada,” Hillman said.
The Jaguars took their lumps in nonconference play this season, falling to several big schools in California and Montana. They also fell at Washington 2B power St. George’s 60-55 last month and split with Northwest Christian.
Top-ranked Lighthouse Christian (23-0) will take the first shot at attempting to dethrone Genesis Prep.
Hillman grew up watching his brothers play in three 5A State title games with Post Falls at the Idaho Center in Nampa, the same site as the 1A Division II championship.
He hopes to get there one more time and has no regrets taking the small-school route.
“It’s been a real blessing,” he said.
Trojans open with defending champs
District I-II champion Post Falls (17-6) opens the 5A tournament Thursday at the Idaho Center in Nampa against two-time defending state champion Rocky Mountain (21-3).
Post Falls coach Mike McLean, who has guided the Trojans to state in 10 his 12 seasons, is led by three-year starting guard Colby Gennett (13.9 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.6 spg, 2.2 apg).
The sophomore-loaded Trojans won their most recent state title in 2015.
Moscow opens its 4A tournament on Thursday against District 3 runner-up Vallivue at Borah High in Boise.
In 3A, District I-II champion Kellogg (9-13) faces District 5/6 runner-up Marsh Valley (17-10) at Meridian High in Thursday’s quarterfinals. District I-II runner-up Timberlake (9-14) faces fourth-ranked Sugar-Salem (15-9).
District I-II champion St. Maries (17-7) opens the 2A tournament Thursday at Capital High in Boise against District 5 champion West Side (15-9).
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