Former standout WSSU Men’s basketball player Cleo Hill, Sr. was recognized by Essex County College on the renaming of the gymnasium.
The ball initially got rolling back in January when Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and Essex County Commissioner Rufus I. Johnson sent a proposal to the Board of Trustees President Marion Bolden and ECC President Dr. Augustine Boakye. Cleo Hill, Sr.’s first work-study and later administrative assistant Adrianne Morse all helped pull everything together.
“Rufus Johnson and my brother (Cleon) were heavily involved with getting everything in motion,” said head men’s basketball coach Cleo Hill, Jr. “We actually thought they were just naming the court after him but to have a whole building named after my dad was an overwhelming feeling.”
Hill, Sr. led the Rams to two back-to-back Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championships in his junior (1959-60) and senior years (1960-61). Upon graduation, he was the second all-time leading scorer in school history.
He later was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA in the first round and eighth overall in 1961.
“After playing several seasons with the Eastern League, Mr. Hill joined Essex County College as a teacher and men’s basketball coach, and then later as the athletic director. Mr. Hill enjoyed a successful coaching career, winning 489 games over 25 years and leading ECC to three Region 19 championships. More importantly, Mr. Hill was a mentor to generations of students.” (Courtesy of Essex County Journal)
He was elected to the Winston-Salem State University Hall of Fame, CIAA Hall of Fame in 1994, and posthumously elected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.
On the day (May 26), the ceremony took place the realization sat in for the Hill family that such a prestigious honor and recognition was about to take place. “It was a blessing and to be able to speak on my father’s behalf and see his former teammates was so great, said Hill, Jr.” “Having Mr. Ted Blunt there, someone who actually played with my dad and knew him was big for me.” “Also, hearing from his former teammate, Dr. Thomas Monterio was huge.”
“Seeing his former players and people I looked up to and having my own son in the audience listening to me just gave me a swoop of emotions but mostly being just proud.” “It was a great day.”