The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Aki Hill Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

April 14, 2015


Aki Hill, whose birth name is Hatsue Akimoto, was born outside of Tokyo, Japan in 1940 and raised in Yokohama, where she lived until her early thirties. Growing up in post-war Japan, Hill benefited from educational reforms that resulted in all manner of new opportunities for Japanese girls and young women. As a high school student, Hill was introduced to the sport of basketball, which was a point of athletic emphasis at her school and was played by the same rules governing the men's game in the United States. Influenced by her coach and by the added exposure that the sport received during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Hill made a decision early in life to pursue a career in basketball, first as a player and later as a coach.

For seven years following her high school graduation, Hill competed in Japan's Amateur Athletic Union women's basketball league, starting at guard for the Tokyo Marine Company team that won the Japanese national AAU championship in 1965. Following that, Hill became the first and only female coach in Japan's AAU system, which at the time consisted of seventy-five teams. In her final year of coaching in Japan, Hill's team finished in second place nationally.

In 1972 Hill took a sabbatical from her coaching duties in Japan to travel to Los Angeles and observe the methods developed and used by UCLA's legendary coach, John Wooden. Hill wound up observing Wooden's UCLA squad for the entirety of the 1972-73 season, a campaign that resulted in a national championship for the Bruins, who were led on the court by senior center Bill Walton.

In 1978, boosted by references from Wooden as well as former Cal coach Pete Newell and Portland Trailblazers executive Stu Inman, Hill was hired by Oregon State University to head its fledgling women's basketball program. (Women's basketball at OSU had been created just two years before as an outgrowth of federal Title IX legislation.) Though she was hampered by substandard facilities and a limited budget, Hill found quick success at OSU, in part because of the talents of Carole Menken, a two-time All American center who would later win an Olympic gold medal as a member of Team USA in 1984.

Hill's teams continued to achieve even after Menken's graduation. Emphasizing a philosophy of pressure defense and ball movement on offense, the Beavers reached the post-season eight times during Hill's seventeen year career, winning the National Women's Invitational Tournament on two occasions.

In 1995, largely as a result of on-going disputes with administrators in the Athletic Department, Hill stepped down as head women's basketball coach and moved into a position with the university's international programming. She remains the winningest coach in Oregon State women's basketball history, compiling a record of 274 wins versus 206 losses.