Southern Illinois University was the first serious suitor for the Chicago native designated as 3-star 19th ranked point guard by scout.com. Offered scholarships from major conferences, the young man who led his 5A team to a 27-2 final record stayed loyal committing early in the process to the Salukis. “I didn’t take recruiting as seriously as I do now. I was young and just wanted to make a decision as quickly as possible to be ready for my senior year in high school. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for me,” he said.
“The reason I decided to leave Southern Illinois is it was nothing about the team. I didn’t see the team going in a good direction. I felt before I came there the coach told me one thing and we ended up doing another so I felt it was in the best interest for myself to look to go elsewhere to finish my career,” said SIU’s 2009-10 leading scorer who averaged 12.3 ppg. Dillard spent last season in a half-court system geared to take advantage of Eugene Teague’s inside presence. Full-court man-to-man pressure was the defense employed.
Dad, Kevin, Sr., is an influential member of the brain trust judging the alternatives. “We were open to all options based on the style of play and the direction of the program,” said the elder Dillard who played at St. Ambrose University (IA). “Right now it’s all about finding the right fit. It’s about finding a program that’s not going to be based around Kevin but one that suits his style of play. It’s a matter of finding the right coach that trusts him and his knowledge of the game. Once the coach and the point guard are on the same page the sky is the limit. The coach doesn’t have to worry about what is happening on the floor because he knows he has that leadership. If it was individual accolades Kevin was after, I’m sure he would be fine anywhere. Individually he has done fine but it’s not an individual sport,” he explained. “He wants to win and he wants to get better. It’s kind of like putting a shark in a pond. He won’t grow. If you put a gold fish in the ocean he’ll get as big as he is allowed to.” Mr. Dillard went on to further clarify the circumstances with no disrespect to SIU using the analogy “It’s kind of like that first girlfriend that didn’t work out.”
Numerous universities around the country inquired about his transfer status but four captured his attention - Alabama, Baylor, Nebraska and ironically Anthony Grant’s alma mater Dayton. On Friday evening, ‘BAMA Magazine and BAMAMag.com in an exclusive interview received word of the final two serious contenders for his signature. “I’m really only considering Alabama and Dayton. Those are the two schools I’m really interested in and plan on visiting before I make my decision,” replied the thoughtful Dillard who has been tendered scholarships from both programs. He will visit Dayton on Tuesday, May 18th and tentatively has a scheduled trip to the Capstone on June 1st with intentions of announcing the decision by June 5th. His Dad will accompany him to Tuscaloosa. Grant contacted AAU coach Troy Johnson, a friend of Kevin, Sr. to gauge the interest level of ‘Lil Kev’.
Dillard’s asserts he has honed areas of his game the past two seasons. “I’m an up tempo type point guard but I could adapt to a half-court style or any style of play. I feel I could bring a lot of leadership and I could create open shots for other people on my team,” said the Missouri Valley Conference’s assist leader (5.0 apg) of last season. “That’s what I take pride in - getting everybody involved and getting everybody open shots. I tried to make an improvement in that category especially this year. I wanted to get my assists up and try to show that I was more of a team player since coming out of high school.”
The 2009 MVC Freshman of the Year has set some goals for his future basketball career. “I feel like on the court I just need to do some more maturing and learn the game a lot more. I feel like I know the game well but I just want to know the game like a coach because the point guard is the coach on the floor. I feel like I need to know everything about the game of basketball,” he confided.
Alabama’s assistant coach Dan Hipsher initially contacted him upon learning of his release from Southern Illinois in late April. “My first conversation with Coach Hipsher, we really got along. We had a real good conversation and that sparked my interest.” Further discussions spurred him to research the Crimson Tide program on the computer. Reviewing the returning roster and program history accelerated the excitement level. “I talked to the head coach and it seems like we’re all on the same page. I want to take a visit down there and see how the environment is and see if it’s a good fit for me.” Dillard strongly believes the point guard must reflect the coaching staff’s philosophy to be successful. Dialogue between the two parties exploring the direction of the program confirmed the mutual interest. “I just like to do whatever it takes to win. I want to win no matter what the cost. Whatever I need to do in that game to win, I’m willing to do it,” he declared.
Anthony Grant’s VCU run in the NCAA tournament with guard Eric Maynor was on Dillard’s radar but didn’t know he was presently at the helm of Alabama until Coach Hipsher called. “He’s (Grant) a very down to earth person. I could talk to him about anything. That was one thing that was a concern – being able to talk to the coach off the court. It doesn’t always have to be about basketball. I feel like I can build a good relationship with Coach Grant based on the conversation,” he intimated. “He told me it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s hard work that’s involved but there is hard work everywhere. If it doesn’t take hard work then it’s not worth it. That is what he told me. It just made me more eager to come down and see the campus because I strive on hard work. I take challenges very well.”
A Chicago area cousin was a favorite player for Dillard. “Growing up I liked Brandon Ewing. He went to Wyoming and now he is playing professionally overseas in Israel. He had success on every level so I always looked up to him,” said the 6’0”, 178 pound right-handed guard who garnered interest from Minnesota and Dayton prior to inking with SIU. Asked about being named the 2008 Mr. Illinois Basketball, Dillard deflected the praise and chose to acknowledge the efforts of his high school teammates as instrumental figures in reaching the preseason goal of being honored with the prestigious award. Currently a business major, he has pondered a change to journalism because of his love for writing. The introverted Dillard often expresses himself through poetry.
Playing the point guard position effectively requires a multitude of skills which Dillard believes he possesses. “The versatility of my game is my strength. I can ball-handle, pass and also shoot. This past year I was trying to establish a mid-range game,” he replied. He views the transfer year as an opportunity for development. “I’m going to try and perfect every aspect of my game – mid-range, long-range and going to the basket. I feel like I have a strong defensive game but I want to be able to be a lock-down defender. I want to be somebody people are intimidated by when I guard them so that is something I do want to work on.”
The official visit to the Tuscaloosa campus will be evaluated based on several factors. “Being down on campus, the scenery, the community and if the team accepts me. Not all transfers are accepted. I’m going into a new situation and I want to be accepted so we can all be on the same page and strive for success,” he stated. A Division I basketball program can always utilize the talents of a proficient point guard. Perhaps a breeze from the windy city of Chicago will blow south inflating the sails of good fortune for both parties navigating their way in pursuit of the collective goal – success.
Kevin Dillard’s two year stats courtesy of Southern Illinois University
GP-GS 29-27 31-22
Min Avg 28.9 30.9
FG/FGA 112/265 128/290
FG Pct 42.3% 44.1%
FG/FGA 31/97 57/126
3 PT % 32.0% 45.2%
FT/FTA 102/132 64/88
FT Pct 77.3% 72.7%
Off/Def 21/70 7/56
PF/FO 73/1 77/1
Assists 146 129
APG 5.0 4.1
TO 72 101
BLKS 4 5
Steals 33 40
Points 357 377
Avg 12.3 12.2