Jerry Hill's life revolved around basketball, so when he was stricken with what was eventually diagnosed to be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, his extended basketball family huddled around him until his death in late December.
Hill was just 55 and a longtime coach at Cathedral City High School, and he gave every last effort to his team and his extended family, just as he did in his 32 years of coaching. His stops included his first job at Desert Christian in 1981, then Palm Desert, Don Lugo, J.W. North, Sacramento City College, Palm Springs and Cathedral City. His heart was always with his desert kids and he was always available to teach even while using a cane, a crutch or in his wheelchair since the onset of his condition last spring.
The two schools that knew him best, Indio and Cathedral City, honored him Friday night with a pregame tribute at Indio High School before their girls' basketball game.
His impact was felt by many, whether in the classroom where he was a substitute teacher, at courtside where he's been since his playing days at Indio High School, or on the sideline watching his boys play for Palm Springs High. He even talked his wife Janet, once the official Team Mom, to become his chief statistician for every game. She was always there by his side, penciling in buckets in the scorebook or selling nachos at the snack bar.
It was a family affair from the start and it has already been determined that Hill's legacy will continue.
His youngest son, Marques, was told so by his dad.
"Right before he passed, he woke me up in the middle of the night to remind me to take care of Mom and take care of his girls," said Marques, who has taken over the reins of the Lions' girls' basketball varsity program. "This was his family and now these girls, I'm like their big brother. I've been here (as an assistant) for about eight years.
"And they know I'm not here because I have to be here, it's because I want to be here. My dad always wanted us to learn and have fun with basketball, ever since we were little kids. I wanted to be like him."
Both sons followed his footsteps. The oldest, Damion, is the associate head basketball coach at Cal Poly Pomona while Marques stepped up from assistant at Cathedral City.
"Coach made a bigger impact than most people know," said Cathedral City senior Tasha Pratt. "He was like a dad to everybody. We're a big family. He did so much for us. He always loved us."
Former Lions' star and DVL MVP Nondi Johnson added that Hill made a lasting impression after basketball.
"He just taught us to be better people," said Johnson, now 25, who played for Long Beach State and Vanguard University. "He was an awesome, all-around guy whether it was teaching us about using our time to get to practice or study, which helped me in college, to team barbecues and car washes."
Whether it was providing a ride from a practice or lending lunch money, Hill would always go the extra mile.
"He loved basketball," said Pratt who was one of the all-female pallbearers at his funeral service Dec. 31. "Everything he was involved in was all about basketball."
Pratt said Hill never wanted to quit even though his players knew that his health was deteriorating. Hill hardly missed a practice and spent his final days in the gym in a wheelchair.
"We could see at the beginning of junior season, that he started limping," Pratt remembered. "He would fall down, but no one knew what was wrong. Then he got a cane, but he was still out there showing us."
Hill eventually transitioned from a cane to using one crutch, then two. This past fall, he showed up to preseason workouts in a wheelchair. When basketball season began, the players were told of the diagnosis and Hill continued to coach. He'd draw up a play, then wheel himself around the gym to tell each player where to stand.
That should come as no surprise if you knew Jerry Hill.
He was passionate about teaching the game, but even more passionate about the players who learned those lessons.