Nimrod Hilliard IV scored 23 points, dished out 7 assists and grabbed 3 rebounds to lead Boras Basket to a 95-74 victory over the defending champion Norrkoping Dolphins on Monday night to go up 2-1 in their semi-finals series in Basketligan, the top tier basketball league on Sweden.
After the game and a shower, the former Madison East star chatted with Madison365 via FaceTime (10:45 p.m. Sweden time/3:45 p.m. Madison time) about the big playoff victory and the incredible trio of regular-season accolades he had just won playing professional basketball in Sweden.
“It was a good night. We’re excited about this series. We’re up 2-1 in a best of 5. This was a big game,” Hilliard tells Madison365. “But I feel like I’m 60 years old right now.”
It was recently announced that Hilliard was the recipient of “Most Valuable Player,” “Guard of the Year,” and “Artist of the Year” for Basketligan, or simply Ligan, the premier league for professional basketball in Sweden.
“That third award they explained to me is about showmanship and being the most exciting to watch,” Hilliard says, speaking of “Artist of the Year.” “It was really cool to win these awards.”
Only Joakim Kjellbom had previously taken home three awards during the same season.
“I had a lot of injuries last year, so this year I feel like I’m really finding my groove,” Hilliard says. “I’ve been healthy all year so far so hopefully just keep it going.”
Boras Basket is a professional basketball club based in the Swedish town of Boras. The club was founded in 1952.
“The SBL is the top league in Sweden. It’s a really good league with a lot of great players,” Hilliard says. ” It’s a great league for players to come in here and have a great season and have a high chance to really move up – make a big step.”
Hillard spends August-May playing in Sweden. As a smallish point guard (6’0’) he gets banged around by some big dudes all season long. Hence, him mentioning earlier that he feels like a 60-year-old.
“Yeah, I get bumped around a lot – these big dudes here,” Hilliard laughs. “This series, especially, we’re playing against a seven-footer, and he’s something else.”
This is the second year playing for Boras, a mid-sized city of about 66,000 people in southern Sweden.
How’s your Swedish?
“Not as good as it should be,” he laughs. “It’s difficult because everybody speaks English. This is my fourth year overseas, so you kind of just learn how to communicate even if somebody doesn’t speak English. You learn how to make it translate somehow. But I have been learning as much Swedish as I can here.
“The experience has been amazing. A lot of people ask: ‘How’s Europe?’ My common answer is that ‘it’s so European,’” he continues. “It’s just hard to explain if you haven’t been over here. The buildings, the roads, everything just looks so European. It’s amazing how different it is from the U.S. I love it. There’s plenty here to see in Sweeden, too. It’s beautiful.”
Hilliard played in Denmark his first season and Germany for his second. This is his second year playing basketball professionally in Sweden.
“I plan on doing some traveling after this season, for sure,” he says. “There’s a lot I want to see before I head home.”
Does he get homesick sometimes during the long and grueling season?
“All the time. I’m getting used to it, though,” Hilliard says. “Even in college, I was never really close to home. But, yes, I do miss home all the time. I miss friends and family, for sure.
“Being on social media helps me so much,” he adds.
Hilliard is easily able to keep track of family and friends and his old Madison East basketball team, who were the number-one team in the state of Wisconsin for a good portion of the past season.
“Madison East had a helluva year this year. I’ve been keeping close tabs on them. I pretty much know all of them; they’re all little bros,” Hilliard smiles. Hilliard was named All-Area prep boys basketball Player of the Year by the Madison.com back in 2011. “I love playing with them in the summer. I remember playing with some of them in the gym at Darbo since they were little kids. Seeing them grow into the players they are is just amazing. It was cool to see them do well this past season.”
For many Madison eastsiders, it’s also very cool to see Hilliard doing so well. The fourth game of the series is on Thursday night. If they win, Boras will advance to the championship round to play the number-one seeded Södertälje Kings. Win or lose this playoff season, Hilliard is hoping that his MVP season will get noticed back in the United States and elsewhere.
“I’m hoping that my success in this league will lead to something else – just to keep going and keep moving up. I talked to my agent and I know I will have some good looks next year,” Hilliard says. “But, right now, I’m really focused on winning a championship and focused on game four of the semi-finals.
“I really want to win this championship and then come home and train and pick where I’m going next,” he adds.