Fantasia Hilliard, junior point guard and all-around star for Sacramento State women’s basketball, has proven that she was made for the sport.
Born and raised in Sacramento, the 5’3 point guard has been active for as long as she could remember. Her father introduced her to the world of sports, with a special focus on basketball.
As the younger sister of Bryan Hilliard, former Sac State running back and third leading rusher in school history, she was used to playing against challenging competition.
“My whole family are athletes and my dad started us out young,” Hilliard said. “I would play against older players and boys, so it helped develop my game a lot when I was younger.”
Her understanding of the game and astounding ability would lead her to Sacramento High School, where she would showcase her talents as the team’s point guard.
She remembers the environment of the school and the excitement she felt when playing in front of her fellow students, as well as the local community.
“During playoffs, the gym was really crowded and it was a homey environment which I really liked; and we did not lose any home games,” she said. “It was good playing high school ball with the players I played with. I had an awesome time there.”
Her dominance at the high school level raised eyebrows, especially those of former women’s basketball head coach, Jamie Craighead.
Hilliard said Craighead was dedicated to the process of recruiting her, attending all her games to get a glimpse of the skills she possessed.
“I remember days during AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) where we played in a small, hot, gym with only fans; she was there sweating in her chair,” Hilliard said. “That showed me she was really committed and wanted me.”
When she was offered the opportunity to play for the Hornets, she wasn’t phased by the transition of high school to Division I.
“I was more curious on the change from high school to college because I knew it was going to be a big transition and faster-paced,” she said. “After my first exhibition game, I felt more comfortable because I stepped my game up.”
Stepping her game up helped her the earn the Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year for the 2011-2012 season. Hilliard became the first women’s player in school history to win the award.
Her sophomore year (2012-2013) proved to be just as successful as she was in the top-25 in the NCAA in assists per game, finishing with a school record 184 assists in one season. She was rewarded with an honorable mention for the all-Big Sky team.
First-year head coach Bunky Harkleroad could tell right away that Hilliard would be an intrical part of the team’s success this season.
“I am really excited about the opportunity to coach her,” Harkleroad said. “She’s got quickness you don’t see very often and she shoots the ball well. We are going to have to depend on her because the ball is going to be in her hands a great deal of the time.”
He mentioned the importance of her leadership on the court and the positive impact it has had on the team to this point.
“It is one of those situations where she is the face of this program, and I think the harder she tries and works, the harder her teammates will do that,” he said. “She has been setting a great example on how to work and get better.”
For Harkleroad, the experience of coaching an entirely new team has been smooth thanks in large part to having Hilliard on the team.
“For someone totally new to come in, she has responded well, and I think her teammates have responded well because of that,” he said. “We’re still figuring each other out, but I could not be more excited about having her at that point guard spot.”
Assistant coach Kim Stephens, who came from Glenville to Sacramento State with Harkleroad, has been impressed with the hard work displayed by Hilliard.
“From the first day I saw her, I was impressed with her quickness with the ball and her ability to see the court,” Stephens said. “She is going to have a really big role and responsibility of making sure her teammates are in the right places, and making sure she sees them when they’re open.”
Personally, Hilliard is focusing on improving her overall abilities, as well as establishing her role as a leader on the court.
“I want to lead my team further than I did last year,” she said. “I want to increase my points and assists. I am just trying to focus on becoming an all-around better player.”
Up to this point in Hilliard’s Sac State career, she ranks fourth all time in school history with 334 assists, including two of the six highest single-season assist records.
With one more year to go, Hilliard has already made a lasting impact on the women’s basketball program at Sacramento State. When all is said and done, she could find herself sitting among the greats in program history.