Basketball: Kevin Dillard has a dream (team) summer
By Logan Malloy For Sun-Times Media July 31, 2012 7:58PM
Kevin Dillard (1). | File photo
Updated: September 2, 2012 6:09AM
While the world’s eyes look on, LeBron James and Deron Williams will try, as fellow members of the USA Basketball “Dream Team,” to secure a gold medal in the ongoing London Olympics.
In Homewood, one pair of eyes will see them not as unapproachable superstars, but as a couple of guys he spent some quality time with this summer.
Kevin Dillard, the former Homewood-Flossmoor star who succeeded Derrick Rose as Illinois’ Mr. Basketball in 2008, played in invitation-only camps hosted by both superstars.
They were invitations Dillard feared never might come, as his college path veered from Southern Illinois, where he played for two years, to Dayton.
“Three years prior to this, I’ve been on the outside looking in, always wishing I had the opportunity to go to one of those camps,” Dillard said. “This summer, God rewarded me for being patient. It was a big stage to play on and a humbling experience.”
With NBA scouts monitoring the field at Williams’ Skills Academy in Chicago, Dillard didn’t disappoint. The senior-to-be was one of 16 college point guards asked to participate in the drill-heavy camp, and his heady play impressed those in attendance, earning Dillard a weekend invite to James’ Skills Academy from July 6 to 9. Five other point guards also got the nod, including Michigan’s Tre Burke and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan.
“I was shocked when I got the call to go to LeBron’s camp,” Dillard said. “In the drills (at Williams’ camp), I knew I was doing really good. I was making a few shots and I was finding my teammates, which is what I like to do. Luckily for me, it worked out in my favor.”
James’ camp, usually set in Akron, Ohio, but moved to Las Vegas to coincide with the USA Basketball schedule, featured 24 of the top collegiate performers from the Nike-sponsored academies of Williams, Kevin Durant and Amare Stoudemire, along with 80 premier prep players from around the country. Full-court scrimmages, with an emphasis on up-and-down play, ensued.
Dillard held his own with a pack of future NBA draftees, citing North Texas’ Tony Mitchell, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas and Duke’s Mason Plumlee as standout players.
“Those three guys are freak athletes. I always appreciate a good big man,” Dillard said. “I’m easily impressed by big guys that can run, finish at the rim and stretch the defense. I’m looking forward to watching them play this year and getting drafted.”
Dillard aspires to play professionally after he finishes his final season at Dayton — something that seems more attainable after his performance at the Nike camps — but the former SouthtownStar Player of the Year understands the importance of perseverance.
When Dillard graduated from H-F in 2008, he headed to SIU in what was considered the school’s most heralded recruiting class. Dillard was named Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, but the team struggled, missing the postseason for the first time in eight years.
To make matters worse, Dillard clashed with former coach Chris Lowery, ultimately leading him in search of a transfer after missing the postseason again his sophomore season.
“That transition was the hardest time of my life,” Dillard said. “Basketball had been my outlet for so long, I didn’t have anywhere to release my anger or frustrations. It helped make me who I am today.”
Last season marked Dillard’s return to the hardwood after sitting out a year per NCAA regulations. He helped Dayton to a 20-13 mark and an NIT bid, leading the Flyers in points (13.3 per game), assists (6.0) and steals (1.4).
The Flyers graduated a few prominent seniors, including Thornton alum Josh Parker, but Dillard likes their chances to compete for a conference title even with the addition of Butler and VCU to the already stacked Atlantic 10 Conference.
“I still think that we’re going to have a pretty good chance to be at the top of the league,” he said.
“It’s my last go-around, my final season. I’ve never been to the (NCAA) tournament, so of course I want it. I’ve been playing all summer to get ready for those tough games. I feel like my game is at another level.”