CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jared Dillinger transferred to UH from Air Force and has transformed himself from a scout-team player to a starter.
Hustle is Dillinger’s forte
STORY SUMMARY »
Coaching changes have been pretty rare around the Hawaii basketball program.
They've become a regular occurrence for Jared Dillinger.
Illinois (1-0) at Hawaii (0-1)
When: Today, 8:05 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
TV: KFVE Ch. 5
Radio: KWAI, 1080-AM
Dillinger has played for five head coaches in a college career split between Air Force and Hawaii, the latest change coming this season when Bob Nash took over for Riley Wallace as the Rainbow Warriors' boss.
"You have to readjust," Dillinger said. "Every time you get a new coach it's kind of hard. You have to get a feel for what he's looking for out of you."
After being informed he might lose his scholarship in the offseason, Dillinger earned a starting spot at small forward for the Rainbows last week, posting 14 points against San Diego.
"It's been a long road to this spot," he said.
The Hawaii women's team opens its season against Washington at 5 p.m. today in the first round of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Classic.
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Change has been a steady companion throughout Jared Dillinger's post-high school journey.
A decision to switch schools altered both his appearance and the direction of his future, and he's played for five different head coaches since starting his college basketball career.
Now comes this dramatic shift in his role with his latest team.
After two seasons spent preparing the Hawaii starters as part of the scout team, Dillinger has transformed his game to earn a spot with the first group.
Among the team's more versatile components and reliable shooters in preseason practices, Dillinger started his first game in his UH career last Friday, which he hopes leads to a stable place in the lineup.
"I've always liked his effort and I think you have to reward guys who give that kind of effort," Rainbow Warriors head coach Bob Nash said. "He's given that from Day 1 and he's got to continue to realize that just because you get to a position where you're starting that you can't relax now. You have to continue to work hard and I think he realizes that."
Dillinger's hustle has been his trademark since transferring to UH from the Air Force Academy in 2005. He sat out his first year as a walk-on and his effort in practice earned him a scholarship for the following season. But his playing time as a junior was again limited mainly to scout-team duty, banging with Ahmet Gueye in the post in practice while appearing in just six games.
After Nash was selected to succeed Riley Wallace as head coach, Dillinger was informed his scholarship might be given to another player if the staff signed a "program changer" in the offseason.
"When that situation arose, I just told (Nash) I understand this game is a business and he's trying to get wins," Dillinger said. "And technically I hadn't really proven to him that I belong out there on the court. So it was just another reminder that you have to work hard, you haven't earned anything."
Dillinger went beyond simply keeping his scholarship to earning the starting small forward spot with his shooting and knowledge of the system.
In his first career start, Dillinger turned in a couple of game-changing plays a week ago against San Diego. After a shaky opening, Dillinger hit a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:30 left, then tore a rebound away from a San Diego player to start a fast-break before the Toreros rallied for a dramatic win.
"Coach Nash always tells us shooters have to keep shooting," Dillinger said. "It was rough at first, I forced a couple of shots I shouldn't have taken. But you can't think about that last shot you took, you have to keep shooting your way through it."
As a high schooler in Littleton, Colo., Dillinger's work ethic earned him an appointment to the Air Force Academy. He spent two years there coming off the bench as a point guard as Joe Scott, Chris Mooney and Jeff Bzdelik all had stints as head coach in that span.
The Falcons won the Mountain West Conference title his freshman year, giving Dillinger the distinction of being the only current Hawaii player to experience an NCAA Tournament.
But Dillinger had trouble envisioning his role in the military with graduation and a four-year commitment approaching and he pondered a change of direction.
"I couldn't sleep for two or three weeks just thinking about it because it was a big decision," he said. "I mean, it changed my life."
Upon electing to leave the academy, Dillinger contacted the UH coaches and chose to pursue his academic and basketball careers as a walk-on here rather than the East Coast, where he had been accepted to Dartmouth.
"I've always had a place in my heart in Hawaii," said Dillinger, an international business and finance major. "I had a lot of friends and family that told me all about Hawaii and how rich the culture is here and I just wanted to go out on a limb and just give it a try."
Once he arrived in Hawaii, Dillinger found a friend in a former rival who was also looking for a change of scenery.
"He looked a lot different at Air Force," said center Stephen Verwers, who began his career at Colorado State, "with the crew cut and a lot lighter skin because he didn't ever see the sun.
"From our redshirt year, we've been really good friends. He's just a great player and a great friend. He's always there for you on and off the court. If you ever need anything he'll help you out."