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Published: Saturday, 5/17/2008

Hillesland visits ex-coach Cross at UT

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
OF ALL TOLEDO NATIVE ZACH HILLESLAND'S COACHES AT NOTRE DAME, HE RANKS GENE CROSS AS THE MOST INTENSE. WHEN CR

"We'd jaw at each other a little bit, it was a healthy friction," Hillesland said of his relationship with Cross, the University of Toledo's new coach. "We both respected each other so it was good, it was something I think I needed. Something he needed as far as he needed to yell at some guys."

Hillesland, a St. John's Jesuit grad and a senior next year at Notre Dame, is back home for five weeks this summer. He stopped by Cross' temporary office at the Glass Bowl yesterday to catch up with his former coach.

"Typically when you move from program to program, you have to disassociate yourself because people think you might be tampering," Cross said. "Out of respect to the place that you left, you have to leave it alone.

"I think in this case Zach and I know where he's going and where he's been. They're really excited about where Notre Dame is going to be next year, and I know I am. I'm going to be cheering for them."

Hillesland, a 6-foot-9, 233-pound forward, mentioned he didn't have a workout partner while he's home, and Cross immediately suggested having him get in the weight room with UT sophomore-to-be Justin Anyijong, who Cross wants to gain some weight this summer.

Hillesland averaged 6.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in starting 16 games for the 25-8 Irish, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament this year. Notre Dame is expected to begin next season ranked in the Top 10.

"We have a really strong group, we're only losing one guy," Hillesland said.

"We have guys who have been in our program and know what to expect. There's not going to be an adjustment period in the summer. We're going to hit the ground running and I think everyone has great expectations."

Cross' mother, Haroleon, and Hillesland's mother, DiAnn, became friends in Cross' time at Notre Dame, and DiAnn attended his introductory press conference at UT. She has been giving Cross advice about Toledo as he transitions into his life here.

"You have to go to people who you trust," Cross said. "I've talked to her on several occasions on where I need to go and who I need to talk to."

Cross said he will miss coaching Hillesland for his senior year.

"Sitting talking to him about his shot is like talking to a professor, he's too smart for his own good," Cross said. "That's the reason why we've got to keep some of this talent home."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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