Of the four seniors, Zach Hillesland had the most disappointing final year.
Brought on as a three star recruit, Zach was known as a point forward with good ball handling skills and above average athleticism. A true small forward, he quickly become a fan favorite during his sophomore year.
After playing only 2.2 minutes per game as a freshman, Zach quickly achieved sixth man status in 2007 with 19.6 minutes per game. He scored 5.8 points and grabbed 4.8 rebounds a contest and nearly became the second Irish player to earn a triple double with his effort against Seton Hall (12 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists). Needless to say, great expectations were set for Hillesland's remaining two seasons.
Junior year Zach regressed a bit, but the overall success of the team overshadowed his falling stats. After the Georgetown game, Hillesland was placed into the starting lineup in place of Ryan Ayers and the team finished the season 11-3. Hillesland played the small forward position reasonably well and led the Irish in rebounding in a Big East Tournament loss to Marquette.
This season, Zach moved to the power forward slot, a position for which he clearly was not suited. In spite of a two minute per game rise in playing time, Hillesland's average points and rebounds per contest have decreased. He has managed more than 6 rebounds just once in conference play and has not demonstrated the improved jumper that was shown in Ireland before the season. His ability as a ballhandler has decreased, resulting in multiple possessions in which his dribbling has killed the flow of the offense. Never a good free throw shooter, Hillesland has dipped to 55% from the line (a year ago it was 69%).
The Irish clearly miss Rob Kurz in the high post this season and Hillesland's inability to adjust to the new position exemplifies Notre Dame's struggle. He is clearly out of position and playing more minutes than he has earned. Best case scenario for the individual and the team would be a return to the sixth man role of two years ago with Hillesland coming off the bench to play small forward.
It's a shame. Zach was one of my favorite players two years ago, but has quite obviously regressed as a result of additional playing time and playing out of position. His tempo-free points per shot (1.52, 1.35, 1.14) has significantly declined since sophomore year and he has never developed the ability to play down low.
Though, like Zeller, he has not been able to develop as hoped, I want to thank Zach for the time and effort he has put into the program. Best wishes after graduation.