A French soccer player in Utah basketball

By By Joseph Simmons

By Joseph Simmons

Like most French youngsters, Kim Tillie was brought up playing on the soccer pitch. But when he got his first growth spurt as a child, he realized that soccer wasn’t going to be an option for him.

“I played soccer when I was younger8212;everyone did8212;but then around 9 or 10, I was so much taller than everyone else, soccer just wasn’t appropriate for me,” the senior forward said. “So since the age of 11, it’s been all about basketball for me.”

Tillie began playing basketball in southern France for the club team Antibes, near his home town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, right around the time that the sport was gaining popularity in France because of the success of San Antoio Spurs guard Tony Parker.

“When Vince Carter started getting big, there was a little basketball coverage, and I was a big Carter fan,” Tillie said. “But when Tony Parker came along, it exploded, and NBA games were suddenly on French TV. A lot more people started playing.”

In addition to Tillie’s height, he also had the added advantage of the athletic ability that came from playing volleyball as a child and the genes from being the child of two professional volleyball players. Tillie’s parents, Laurent and Caroline, both played professional volleyball and competed in the Olympics, his father for the French national team and his mother for the Dutch national team.

Tillie excelled for Antibes and soon caught the attention of Paris’ Basket Racing’s Junior Team. When Tillie turned 16, he left his hometown to attend high school in Paris at Lycée Jean de la Fontaine. Tillie averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game, and soon he was invited to play for the under-18 French National Team.

As a forward for the French team, he averaged eight points and six rebounds per game, and the team won the 2006 European Championship and qualified for the 2007 FIBA Junior World Tournament. It wasn’t long until American universities took interest in the young forward.

“My very first contact was the University of Florida, and then Utah came, then Old Dominion and then the University of Washington,” Tillie said.

Scouts from those teams came to Paris to watch Tillie play, and soon he began recruiting trips to the states. Tillie said he had to make a difficult choice to play college basketball in America, as he had the opportunity to play professional basketball in France when he turned 18. After Tillie visited his prospective schools, he said he knew that for him, Utah was the place to be.

“When I saw all those banners hanging up in (the Huntsman Center) arena, the facilities, I really liked this place, but not necessarily the weather,” Tillie said with a laugh.
Tillie said he knew next to nothing about Utah, but outside of basketball, he was impressed with Salt Lake City.

“It’s a really clean place,” Tillie said. “I really enjoyed staying here, and I still do.”
Tillie was originally recruited by former Utah head coach Ray Giacoletti, but has spent the majority of his career under current head coach Jim Boylen.

Tillie’s career at the U started with great frustration. As a freshman, he played in just 11 games before he fractured his left ankle in practice and had to sit out the rest of the season. As a sophomore, Tillie suffered a stress fracture, which slowed him down and kept him out of five games throughout the season.

However, since his junior year, Tillie has been injury-free and made strides in developing his game and leadership skills. Last season, Tillie started in 30 out of 32 games and averaged 4.4 rebounds and 3.3 points per game.

Boylen said that he has seen Tillie develop as a player and a leader for the team during his time here, and that Tillie’s hard work has shown in his growth.

“He’s invaluable to our team,” Boylen said. “We’re going to look to him to make veteran decisions and be a leader on our team all season long.”

For Tillie, leadership is not just about saying the right things to get the team fired up, but more importantly, it’s about being an example.

“I try to show the team how to do the right thing in practice,” Tillie said. “If they see me go hard, they’re going to go hard, too. It’s a different kind of leadership, but if someone’s all talk and no game, no one will follow you.”

Tillie said the most important things for him and the team are to defend their home court and win enough games to go the NCAA Tournament again.

Although he is getting his degree in urban planning, Tillie said that he hopes to play basketball at the professional level, either in the United States or in another country.
“I don’t mind playing in a foreign country,” Tillie said. “It’s just like now, I can learn the foreign language. It’s kind of like I’m on a mission.”

For now, Tillie says he is totally focused on maintaining Utah’s winning tradition and finishing the season strong.

“One of the things that I love here is the tradition they have of winning,” Tillie said. “I think that we have a strong group, and we are going to win a lot of games this year, and I’m just glad to play a part in it.”

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Mike Mangum

Senior forward Kim Tillie gets a layup in a game against the University of Findlay. The French transplant has become an invaluable addition to the team, according to head coach Jim Boylen.