OFFICIAL: Cleo Hill, Jr. named Head Basketball Coach at UMES

In Friday’s DAILY DIRT, I mentioned that Cleo Hill, Jr. was the “hot” name at Maryland Eastern Shore. This move has now been made official – the veteran head coach has taken over at UMES. Here’s the release:

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has announced the hiring of Cleo Hill, Jr. as the head men’s basketball coach.

“We are excited about the future of Hawk basketball as we welcome Cleo Hill, Jr. to UMES. During our national search, the hiring committee received an influx of interest from qualified candidates. After a thorough and timely review of each candidate, Coach Hill stood out as the right person to lead our men’s basketball program,” Vice President of Athletics Tara A. Owens said. “Coach Hill has a proven track of building winning programs with success at Cheyney, Shaw and Winston-Salem State. He has a tremendous reputation as a coach and has a great vision for Hawk basketball. Under his leadership, we will continue to reach new heights of success on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.”

A veteran coach, Hill comes to UMES with 17 seasons of head coaching experience along with a variety of assistant coaching roles and an impressive collegiate playing career at North Carolina Central University.

Hill spent the previous six seasons as the head coach of the Rams at Winston-Salem State University.

Last season, Hill led the Rams to a 19-9 overall record along with a perfect 6-0 record in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Northern Division. With the top record in the CIAA, the Rams were ranked in the D2CSC Atlantic Poll eight times. Hill developed two All-CIAA selections in Jaylen Alston and Isaac Parson. Alston was also tabbed CIAA Player of the Year. In addition, Imajae Dodd was named CIAA Defensive Player of the Year and Hill earned CIAA Coach of the Year honors. Earlier in May of this year, Hill was selected to coach and hold on-court basketball sessions at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, Illinois.

Hill guided the Rams to a 21-9 ledger in 2022-2023 on the way to capturing the CIAA Tournament title and earning an appearance in the NCAA Div. II tournament. Player standouts under Hill’s tutelage included CIAA Tournament MVP Jaylen Alston and All-CIAA selection Jaylon Gibson. Hill was also chosen by WSSU Athletic Director Etienne Thomas to participate in Leadership Winston-Salem, a 9-month leadership program designed to educate, connect, and energize leaders to serve and improve the community. At the end of the 2023 season, Hill was named to the North Carolina Black Business Power 100 List.

Despite the most uncertain of times coming out of a canceled 2020-21 season due to Covid-19, the Rams 2021-22 season was unwavering as they clinched a Southern Division title ending the regular season with an 18-7 record while Hill secured his 200th career head coaching victory. Hill helped develop Cameron Campbell and Javante Cooke who both earned All-CIAA selection. Cooke also secured a spot on the HBCU All-Star Team and was ultimately drafted to the G-League.

In his second year as the WSSU head coach, Hill led the team to its first CIAA championship in eight years with a 19-10 overall record. In addition to the team’s tournament championship, the Rams also claimed a share of the 2019-20 CIAA Southern Division Championship while Hill was named the CIAA Coach of the Year. The Rams also made their first trip to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament since 2013.

Prior to taking the reins of the WSSU program, Hill was an entrepreneur, serving as a basketball trainer for three years including working several basketball camps through Breakthrough Basketball. 

Hill spent seven seasons as the head coach at Shaw University from 2008 to 2015. Under Hill’s leadership, the Bears went 116-67 overall record. Hill’s most successful run with the Bears included the 2011-2012 season in which Shaw went 27-4 overall along with an undefeated regular season in the CIAA with a 16-0 record while earning a Southern Division crown and an NCAA tournament at-large bid. The team advanced to the Atlantic Regional final and concluded the season ranked No. 5 in the nation. During his time as the Shaw head coach, Hill developed CIAA Player of the Year and Atlantic Region Player of the Year Malik Alvin and All-CIAA selection Tony Smith. Hill was also named CIAA Coach of the Year and BOXTOROW Coach of the Year.

On their way to a 23-9 record in 2010-2011, the Bears won the CIAA title while Raheem Smith earned CIAA tournament MVP. Smith along with teammate Tony Smith were selected to the All-CIAA Team. Hill was recognized for his Team’s achievements by being named NSAA/NCAA DII Clarence Big House Gaines Coach of the Year and BOXTOROW Coach of the Year.

Hill’s head coaching career began at Cheyney University. Serving as the head coach of the Wolves from 2003 to 2008, Hill made an immediate impact. In his first season, the Wolves went 23-8 overall and won the Eastern Division title with a 10-2 record. Hill’s Wolves led the conference in scoring with 82 points per game led by East Player of the Year Anthony Frazier. 

Before obtaining his first head coach position, Hill spent time as an assistant coach with Shaw University from 2000 to 2002. Hill supported the team as they clinched a CIAA Championship while advancing to the final field of four teams in the NCAA Div. II tournament. In addition, Hill assisted in the development of Ronald “Flip” Murray, who was voted CIAA Player of the year and Division II Player of the Year. Murray went on to be drafted in 2002 as the 42nd overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks.

From 1998 to 2000, Hill was the assistant coach at the University of Nebraska where the team earned an NIT bid during the 1998-99 season. In addition, Hill’s first recruiting class at Nebraska was ranked top 20 in the nation. 

Prior to Nebraska, Hill was an assistant coach at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham from 1996 to 97, where he helped coach the No. 1 ranked high school player in the country, lottery pick, and future NBA Hall of Fame inductee Tracy McGrady. While at Mount Zion Christian Academy, Hill was part of a team that went 26-3 while being ranked No. 1 in the country. 

Hill’s first assistant coaching position was at his high school alma mater, Orange High School in Orange, New Jersey from 1991 to 1994. Prior to embarking on his coaching career, Hill played two seasons of semiprofessional basketball overseas.

Hill is a graduate of North Carolina Central University where he earned South Atlantic Region All-Tournament team honors as a senior and is still among the school’s all-time leading scorers after eclipsing the 1,000-point milestone in college. Hill was also a standout basketball player at Orange High School from 1980 to 1984 and received multiple basketball honors including All-City, All-County, and All-State honors. He eclipsed 1,000 points scored and ranks among the top ten scorers in school history. He was later inducted into the Orange High School Sports Hall of Fame.  

Originally from Orange, New Jersey, Hill is the son of 2017 National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Cleo Hill, Sr., a guard who scored 2,488 points in his career at Winston-Salem State Teacher’s College, now Winston-Salem State University. The elder Hill went on to be the eighth overall pick in the 1961 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks, the first player from an HBCU taken in the first round.

“I am ready for the opportunity to lead our men’s basketball program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. I appreciate the campus community, President Heidi M. Anderson, Vice President Tara Owens and the search committee for their efforts throughout the hiring process,” says Hill. “My past experiences and success as well as my passion for building programs have prepared me for this next step in my coaching career. Our goal is to build Hawk basketball into a perennial championship contender while winning in the classroom and positively representing UMES in the community. I am enthusiastic about the future and look forward to developing a team that our alumni, student body and fans will be proud of.”

Hill takes over a UMES program coming off a 9-20 season with a 4-10 mark in conference play.

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