Dillinger: Happy Hoops Surprise
Wednesday - January 02, 2008
There are three things you may not know about Jared Dillinger:
He considered enrolling at Dartmouth after leaving the Air Force Academy, he’s half Filipino - which explains why he looks local even though he was born in Colorado - and, believe it or not, he can ball.
After seeing only six minutes of playing time a year ago, that final revelation probably came as the biggest surprise to those early inhabitants of the Stan Sheriff Center who saw this little-known guard/forward score in double figures in five of his first six games as he filled in for injured point guard Matt Gibson. Though his numbers have dipped since Gibson’s return, Dillinger remains fourth on the team in scoring, first in three point shooting, first in steals, and has outshot team-mates and returning offensive threats Bobby Nash, Riley Luettgerodt and Gibson. He is also tied for second in turnovers and has hit on 53 percent of his free throw opportunities. So he still has some work to do, but the turn-around has been anything but expected for most observers.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” says UH head coach Bob Nash. “We knew he was working real hard because he was here all summer and he did the military camp with us. He worked in the weight room and played in the summer leagues, but not until he got with the full team could you see how he had improved.”
In addition to his improved offensive output, Dillinger also has turned heads with his hustle on the defensive end, where he seems to have a knack for impeding the opponent’s progress to the rim. Though his coach jokes that it’s just because he is too slow to get out of the way.
“If I was some big 6-foot-8 guy, I’d try to stuff people all the time. I’m a guy who can’t really jump, so I have to take charges. It doesn’t bother me to get hurt. During the game you can’t feel anything. It just pumps me up more, getting hit.”
That aggressive style of play may have to be rethought a bit after the season-ending injury to starting center Stephen Verwers. The Rainbow Warriors, already thin with redshirts and injuries, can only suit 10 players, and the team can hardly afford to lose another body in a season that has already seen the team play some of its best and absolute worst halves in memory.
“It’s been hard. I worked so hard to make it, and now I’m playing, but it isn’t any fun. It’s no fun when you are losing, and when you lose a good friend and good player like Stephen Verwers it just makes it that much harder,” says Dillinger, feeling worse for his coach than for himself.
“Every time we lose a game I feel so bad for Coach Nash. This guy gave me the opportunity to play and when we lose I feel like I let him down. It kills me every time. That guy’s done so much for me.”
That chance began after two years at the academy when the then point guard came to the conclusion that military life was not his true calling. While he knew he wasn’t going to be an airman, determining the next step wasn’t easy.
“In a military school you do what you’re told. You don’t ask why, you just do it. Half the time they are telling you where to go and where to be. But now, having to make your own decisions, it was so hard at the time to make a decision like that. It was like ‘what should I do?’”
After looking to the Ivy League and determining that the WAC offered a better brand of basketball, he took Nash’s offer to walk on to the team even though it was loaded with players at his position and that he had virtually no ties with the state.
“The first day of practice is when I met the guys. After Midnight Ohana I just showed up and everyone is looking at me like, ‘Who is this guy?’”
Dillinger wasn’t completely alone. Gibson went to high school with one of his Air Force teammates and he had played against Verwers, so there was at least a bit of familiarity. But it was far from a recruiting visit reunion. It worked out, of course. Both of his new team-mates were redshirting, and that gave the former cadet someone to hang out with. Even a minor family connection worked out and resulted in a place to live. The dorms were full by the time of his arrival, and without a scholarship he was on his own.
After many phone calls, a friend of his aunt offered to put him up. Kenneth Hurlburt, a flight attendant with Hawaiian Airlines, opened his Mililani home to the young man he had never met. For Dillinger, it was a near miracle.
“He didn’t even know who I was,” says the senior who is majoring in international business and finance. “He went out on a limb and took care of me. I didn’t know what was going on and this guy showed me everything. He’s the nicest dude. He trusted me and he didn’t even know me.”
Now that Dillinger had a team to play for and a place to stay, he still had to overcome the challenges of adjusting to a new way of life that was far less structured. Sure, he spent nearly four hours a day riding the bus from Mililani to Manoa and back, but beyond that grueling daily ride, his time was his own.
“When I first got here I didn’t know what to do with my time. (At the academy) it was like wake up at 6 o’clock, eat at this time, practice at this time, military studies at this time. I come out here, I’m a regular person. I really didn’t know what I would do with my time. Should I go to the beach or just hang out?”
He seems to have it figured out. He’s working toward his degree, his minutes will increase as the Rainbows are forced to go small following Verwers’ injury, and he’s happy that he is no longer mistaken for a volleyball player when hanging with his more well-established teammates. He has even attracted the attention of basketball people to the west. With a Filipina mother, Dillinger qualifies to play for that Philippine national team, and representatives have caught games and spoken with coaches.
“I don’t know how they found me, but I am definitely interested in playing.”
But first is the WAC schedule and Dillinger where he says good play can erase all early season problems. He’s right. With a late start and slow implantation of a new offense, this is a team in transition, but not one without merit.
Dillinger calls himself a late bloomer. That may be exactly what the Rainbows need.
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