I wrote the following article for my college newspaper. I decided to repost it here since I felt it was a pretty big deal a mid-major like SIU landed the best high school basketball player in Illinois.
The Salukis may not have won the big one on the court this season but they were the victors off of it.
SIU is expected to welcome Kevin Dillard, who won Mr. Basketball of Illinois this month, to the team next season. Mr. Basketball is awarded to the best high school player in the state and is decided by a vote from coaches and media.
The Homewood-Flossmoor point guard is in elite company, joining past winners such as NBA players Kevin Garnett, Eddy Curry and Julian Wright and current Memphis point guard Derrick Rose. Most winners have advanced to the NBA since the award's debut in 1981.
Dillard said he wasn't sure if he would win the award but he believed in himself and was honored when he heard he received it.
"I wasn't really expecting to win it but I thought I had a chance," Dillard said. "Based on what my team's record was and what I was able to do I thought I was a candidate for that award."
Dillard is accustomed to proving the critics wrong because he battles bigger players every game. Though he stands at 6-feet and weighs in around 170 pounds, that does not stop him from dominating his opponents.
The soon-to-be Saluki led Homewood-Flossmoor to a 27-2 season while averaging 23.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. He also seems to have some "Floorburn U" in his game as he averaged 5.1 steals per game.
Dillard's father, Kevin Dillard Sr., said his son's work ethic doesn't allow him to fail.
"It all started in the summer when he had a fantastic season on the AAU circuit," the elder Dillard said. "He would go to individual workouts any time the gym was open and when the school season started he would stay an hour, hour and a half after workouts to work on drills."
Big universities started taking notice of Dillard during his time on the AAU circuit where he proved he could shine alongside top high school players such as Mike Dunigan, Josh Crittle and Matthew Humphrey.
Unfortunately for schools like Georgetown and Kentucky, which tried to get him late in his high school career, SIU and Chris Lowery already had him on the radar his sophomore season.
The elder Dillard said it was SIU's genuine interest and belief in his son's abilities that attracted both of them to the school.
"It's kind of like going out with a girl. If she doesn't want to go out with you she will be the worst date in the world," the elder Dillard said. "If you're going to be with someone for four years, you want to make sure they're going to want to be with you."
Dillard did not only overcome obstacles on the court but he persevered off it as well. His mother died when he was a one-year-old, which he said resulted in a close friendship with his father that continues today.
Before a game against Rockford Boylan, Dillard had to deal with another loss at the funeral of his grandmother. Dillard used his sorrow as motivation and had one of the best games of his career as he scored 36 points.
Dillard said the adversity off the court has helped him develop into the player and the person he is today.
"I'm a stronger person because of what I have been through," Dillard said. "Everything that has happened in my past, I just dedicate everything I do to that."
Dillard will join Torres Roundtree and Anthony Booker in one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes at SIU. Dillard said he is also trying to convince another Chicago top-prospect Ryan Hare to join the team. Dillard said Hare is expected to make his decision public Saturday.
The title of Mr. Basketball can carry a heavy burden, but Dillard said he is ready to prove his critics wrong again at the collegiate level.
"Now people are doubting me at the collegiate level again," Dillard said. "So I am just going to keep working hard and prove them all wrong again."