Madison’s Nimrod Hilliard has been playing professional basketball in Europe for the better part of a decade, but after being sidelined with a serious knee injury for the better part of a year and half after playing professionally in Cyprus, he is back and as good as ever. The former Madison East basketball star and 2011 Wisconsin Mr. Basketball recently signed to play for Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur (KR Reykjavik) basketball team in Iceland and in his first professional game on Jan. 11, Hilliard made quite the splash scoring 32 points on 7 for 10 shooting (including 5 of 7 from three-point land) and dished out 8 assists as Kreykjavik beat Skallagrimur 102-85.
“It’s been a long road, but it feels so good to be back,” Hilliard tells Madison365. “I’m excited, man. I’ve been injured for a while, so I am so happy for the opportunity to play again. I got my legs under me and I’m in basketball shape. I’ve been playing a lot and I’m excited and I feel great. My body feels good.”
Hilliard originally was injured while playing for Petrolina AEK in Cyprus over a year ago. Since then, he has been living his life in basketball limbo dealing with an injury that he initially didn’t quite know what the problem was.
“At the beginning, they didn’t know what was wrong. I came home, and the doctors and hospitals didn’t know what was wrong,” Hilliard remembers. “So I went about six months with nobody telling me what was wrong, what was injured and it was just kind of like a tough spot to be in, to be honest with you. We just weren’t moving forward.
“So finally after six months, they made a decision to go look at my knee and scope it out and get an inside picture of it,” Hilliard continues. “That’s when they found out that my cartilage was pretty much hanging off every time I tried to get aggressive with my movements. So they had to go in and pretty much smoothen out my cartilage.”
The injury and the uncertainty if he’d ever be able to play basketball again had been one of the toughest times in his life. “For the longest time, I didn’t know if I would be able to get back to playing overseas because of the injury. So I was happy to get that surgery done and even happier to be signed by Reykjavik in Iceland,” Hilliard says.
Hilliard is now the starting point guard for KR men’s basketball team, commonly known as KR or KR Basket, a professional basketball club based in Reykjavík, Iceland. The KR stands for Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur and the club has won the Icelandic championship 18 times, the most national championships in the men’s top-tier league history, according to its website.
Reykjavík is the capital and largest city of Iceland. It is located in southwestern Iceland, a country that is known for being breathtakingly beautiful.
“Since I’ve signed. So many people have come to me and told me that they’ve been there and how beautiful it is,” Hilliard says. “And I’ve just never been there before so it is exciting to be here.
“There’s a lot of things that I hope to see. I’m interested in going to see this volcano that I’ve been reading about that just erupted. I’m excited about that,” he continues. “Unlike most of the places I’ve been to where I’ve read up on it and I knew the situation before I signed, I was so thrilled to just get back playing that I really don’t know too much about Iceland, but I’m excited to be here.”
Hilliard has previously played professional basketball in a variety of European countries including Denmark, Germany, and Sweden for two years. He returned to play in Denmark again before playing professionally in Hungary and Cyprus.
“I think doing all of this traveling to all of these different countries has given me great perspective and some really amazing experiences,” Hilliard says.
Hilliard has been busy picking up various languages, cultures, and customs of European countries that he has traveled to, but says that he has been fortunate that quite a few people along the way spoke English.
“I’ve been to places like Hungary, for instance, where people didn’t speak a lot of English. I was in a smaller city there. So you’ll run across a lot of people in smaller cities or where there are a lot of older people who don’t speak a lot of English,” Hilliard recalls. “But normally as I traveled, most of the younger people can speak English. And if not, you learn how to adapt to the situation and make it work to be able to communicate.
“I think my favorite thing about playing overseas is just being able to experience the different cultures,” he adds. “I can explain it, but it won’t really do it justice without going to see for yourself. And with modern technologies and FaceTiming, I feel like I’m closer to home than basketball players in Europe were back in the day. I’m still able to keep tabs on everybody and connect with friends and family.”
Hilliard joined KR Reykjavik mid-season and said that the season would be over in late March to early April.
While he was injured back home, Hilliard started the Hilliard Pro Development training program and it’s really started to take off.
“It’s the best thing ever. It has been a blessing in disguise as far as my injury happening and getting that going,” he says. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while so I had the time to actually get it going and it’s been a blessing.”
Hilliard says “he’s always wanted to train kids” and he has been doing it most of his life, anyway because “basketball is my passion.” The best way to reach him for those interested in training sessions, he says, is through his Instagram.
“I’ve been working with a lot of the schools. I haven’t gotten [Madison] East [High] yet, my alma mater. I can’t wait to get going with them whenever it does start happening, but I have been working with a lot of different schools and, of course, all the best talent around Madison and the surrounding area. So it’s been super fun. It’s been a blessing. I’m setting myself up when I’m done with basketball full-time to really go in with that. It’s been a blast. I love it.
“We have so much talent around Madison and in the surrounding area. There’s so many kids that should have been or could have been or will and still have the opportunity to go experience and play basketball and give you those life experiences,” he continues. “So I’m just excited to be able to put that knowledge of the basketball game to these kids, so hopefully one day they can go and play basketball and let them experience life like it’s done for me.”
In the meantime, Hilliard has a job in Iceland — bringing another Icelandic championship to KR Reykjavik.
“My goal is to stay healthy. As long as I’m healthy, I believe in my talents to play basketball. I’m getting into my later years as far as the basketball years, and I want to stay healthy. I want to have fun. I want to help this team be successful and I want to go experience different countries and just kind of live my life to the fullest,” Hilliard says. “Every time I come home [to the U.S.] I want to get my business going more and more and get it set up so when I’m retired, I can fully invest and get my own gym built and go all in with that.”