Hill headed to Afghanistan

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Caton Hill built a reputation as a hard-nosed player for Oklahoma, a rugged rebounder who played in a school-record 140 games. Her coach calls her a player who defines the Sooners' program.

Hill, now a U.S. Army captain, said Wednesday that lessons learned from her basketball career should help her deal with challenges she might face while on combat duty in Afghanistan. She leaves for a one-year deployment on Friday -- and she's nervous.

"It will be a great experience, but it's still scary," said Hill, who is from Ada. "You have to respect the situation. ... It's not like I'm going out and doing a lot of risky business, but I'm still there [in Afghanistan] and I'm a flight surgeon. There is some anxiety, but a lot of stuff you can't control, so I focus on what I can control."

Hill said she will serve as a flight doctor for the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment -- also known as the "Task Force Brawlers" -- primarily working with helicopter pilots on the front lines.

Hill, a 6-foot-1 forward, played for the Sooners from 1999 to 2004 and is sixth on Oklahoma's career scoring list with 1,653 points. She twice earned All-Big 12 Conference honors from coaches and started for Oklahoma's 2002 national runner-up squad.

"She was a relentless competitor on the basketball floor, a 'do all the dirty jobs' kind of post/power forward," Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale said. "She was never the biggest or the fastest, and I used to joke that you could put a couple of pieces of paper under her feet when she jumped. But she found a way to get the job done -- whatever it was you asked her to do."

After graduating from Oklahoma, Hill decided to enter the university's medical school. She also decided to join the Army Medical Corps, with the Army paying her medical school bills in exchange for her service. It was a decision influenced by the fact her father, Howard Hill, and uncle, John Binkley, both served in the Army. Her brother, Andrew Hill, also is in the Army.

Caton Hill said she grew up at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas and that she's "always been around" the military, so she understood its culture.

"I wanted to join because I think ... going and taking care of people who are fighting for you is one of the most honorable things to do," she told reporters in a conference call from Georgia.

She said the challenges with which she dealt while a college athlete "made me understand myself better. ... If something is not going my way, I know that I'm going to have to change it and I'll be OK. When you're running sprints and you can't breathe but you somehow do it, that gives you confidence that you can somehow do things.

"It has helped me and it will help me when I get over there," she said. "I know I will make mistakes but I know that I can change them and not make them again."

Coale said she's not surprised Hill chose a challenging career path.

"It reflects accurately her gifts of intelligence, attention to detail, perseverance, and indomitable will," Coale said. "And she was raised to serve.

"She told me last week that college basketball was hard. And in a weird sort of way that made me insanely proud. Hopefully we helped play some small role in honing her skills and enhancing her will, preparing her for this tour of duty for our country."