Dec. 14, 1997
Dillon Gains Confidence in Second Season
By Kyle Doty
Scenario One: Your a 17- year-old point guard, who wants to play Division I college basketball, but you think another year of prep school will help you mature to be physically on par with other players on the Division I level.
Scenario Two: Your a 17-year-old point guard, planning to go to prep school for a year, but a Division I program offers you a chance to play starting in a month.
Which do you decide? Notre Dame point guard Jimmy Dillon chose the second path for his basketball career. Now in his sophomore season with the Fighting Irish, Dillon has experienced a year of major college basketball, and become physically more mature.
"I had planned to take another year of prep school because I was so young," says Dillon. "Physically, I was a little bit over matched coming in, but mentally I was always ready. It was tough being the youngest one in the group for a while, but we had a great group of guys on the team, and I earned their respect quickly."
The adjustment to college life came easier to Dillon than it probably would to most people.
"The move to Notre Dame was not that difficult for me," says Dillon. "Mentally, I am a very strong person. I met alot of good people quickly, and I was involved in basketball which is what I love. I can't think of a better situation to move into."
Dillon's mental toughness off the floor, correlates with the position he plays on the court. The point guard is the catalyst for the offense, and controls the pace of the game. Ball handling is a key to how a point guard can manage the game, and Dillon found that to be his biggest challenge as a freshman in the Big East.
"Bringing the ball up and down the floor was the biggest challenge for me," says Dillon. "With the defenders being able to ward you off with their elbows, getting the ball up the court became more physically grinding than it ever was in high school."
In order to combat this physical pounding, Dillon has added fifteen pounds to his six foot, one inch frame. He believes this will allow him to compete more this season, especially in the BIG EAST.
"The guards in the BIG EAST are tough," says Dillon."You look at Shaheen Holloway at Seton Hall, Jason Hart at Syracuse, and Khalid El Amin at Connecticut. They are all quick, but they have the strength to go around you too. The best teams in the conference have the best point guards. That's not a coincidence."
Dillon's strength is his confidence in his game. Head coach John MacLeod and his coaching staff, knew they were getting an excellent floor leader who had good offensive skills when they recruited him. He believes that the biggest improvement he has made since last season is on the defensive side of the ball. The impetus for his improvement was head coach John MacLeod, who made defense a personal challenge to Dillon.
"Coach came to me last year and said teams could be looking at film, and singling me out as a defensive liability," says Dillon. "I took that personally. I focused on defense more after that, and I realized that defense is extremely mental. You need to study film of your opponents, and know their strengths and weaknesses in order to expose them."
Jimmy Dillon is progressing as a player, but his interests are not selfish when it comes to Notre Dame basketball. He is not out to put up great stats. He is here to win, and that is what he wants more than anything for this program. As most good athletes, Dillon is competitive by nature. Off the court, his interests are focused on adversarial hobbies such as ping pong and golf. He relishes the opportunity to take on an opponent, and loves the feeling of winning. That is why his position at point guard is so important to him, because he can help those around him to gain an advantage over their opponent.
"The cliche 'knowledge is power' has become important in basketball, especially for a point guard," says Dillon. "We look at film to learn the tendencies of other teams, and get to know their personnel very well. At the end of a game it may come down to one or two plays, and if you know that the man you are guarding is likely to go toward the baseline, rather than the lane, that gives you an advantage. Recognizing defenses, and knowing how to adjust to them is what makes a team successful."
Dillon is extremely focused on the Irish season. There were goals that were set by the team at the end of last season that still stand, and he wants to help achieve them.
"After the success of last season, the returning players had alot of confidence," says Dillon. "We knew we had a solid core of players coming back with Pat (Garrity) and Derek (Manner), as well as an excellent game plan. At the end of last season we all got together and made it our goal to get to the 'dance' this year."
The 'dance' refers to the NCAA Tournament, which is the ultimate objective of any Division I college basketball program. Dillon stressed that for the Irish to go to the tournament, they had to be successful on the road in the BIG EAST, and also win some important non-conference games.
"For teams to advance to the NCAA Tournament, you have to prepare for every opponent with the same intensity," says Dillon. "If you don't get that 'W', then that is one more step away from making the tournament."
Last season, Dillon was a back up to senior Admore White, and this season he came in with a shot at the starting job. Freshman Martin Inglesby earned the spot of starting point guard, but Dillon was not discouraged.
"I'm coming off the bench," says Dillon. "Everyone has a role on this team. Whether its rebounding, screening, or defense, its all part of our game plan."
Dillon stressed his desire to be a 'spark' when he comes off the bench, and give the Irish a boost. Dillon already achieved this once this season in the Sam Houston State game, when he came off the bench and Notre Dame promptly rattled off 15 unanswered points. Jimmy Dillon is the ultimate team player. He will do whatever it takes to earn a win for his team, and he is positive about the way the Irish have started this season.
"The win at Pittsburgh was big for us," says Dillon. "A conference win on the road this early in the season will help our confidence throughout the rest of the season. It was only our third road win in three years in the BIG EAST, and this team needs to know that it can be successful on the road, and not just rely on the success we have had at home in the past. The league is up for grabs and this is the year we are going to make our move."
More than anything, Dillon loves basketball, and he loves playing for Notre Dame. He sees basketball as his ticket to a great education. He is working harder at his game and his studies all the time, and his role as a leader on the team will grow with his experience. He may be only 18-years-old, but Jimmy Dillon is brimming with confidence and pride in Notre Dame basketball. When asked what his personal goals were for the season, Dillon matter-of-factly responded, "I don't have any, if the team succeeds, I have achieved my goal."
That's the definition of a team player.