The Melbourne Tigers have made a nice sized splash in the free agency market this off-season and in the process have replaced some of their size from last year with some freakish athleticism. No one epitomizes this more than the addition of 6’3″ slashing guard Daniel Dillon. I sat down with the ex-Arizona Wildcat, South Dragon and Cairns Taipan to talk about his recent inclusion in the Australian Boomers squad, his time at Arizona and his return to Melbourne to join the Tigers. With Melbourne’s official training camp commencing on July 25th, Daniel has definitely been keeping himself busy in preparation. Personal workout sessions combined with coaching is currently keeping his schedule filled six days a week. Thankfully this particular day granted us some time to sit down and talk some hoops.
Playing D1 College Basketball at Arizona was definitely a great experience for Daniel. The Arizona system is of a very high caliber and high demand on players with coaching great Lute Olsen pushing his guys hard every day. Olsen expected the very best out of his players and held them all, including Daniel to the high standards set before them by players like Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and others who had excelled in the system.
When discussing the College system, Daniel mentioned the experience, the crowds, the training regimes, the lifestyle and the strong-bodied competition as real positives for developing young players making the move to the US. These factors along with the valuable College education gained make a strong case for our young talent to be playing in College rather than the NBL.
“The opportunity of going to a College and playing in front of 15,000 people at some of these schools… getting a free education and having the experience of a lifetime is hard to beat when you’re not sure if you can make the NBL or you’re not at that level yet“.
With Cairns making such a great run at the title last season falling just one game short of a Championship, we talked about the Taipans’ season and what it meant to be a part of it. Not knowing what to expect when landing in Cairns, Daniel put in the hard work and earned himself a starting spot. Finishing the season strongly and carrying some momentum into the Playoffs was huge and the Taipans went very, very close to sealing the deal.
“If you make the Playoffs, it’s anyone’s story… anyone can win games if they stick together and do the little things that got them there in the first place… and that’s what we did“.
“If we were one game better we could have won the whole thing… but it was a great season and it was a lot of fun for me“.
Looking to the future, Dillon joins Liam Rush and old Cairns running mates Ayinde Ubaka and Ron Dorsey at Tigers HQ which keeps expectations high for all Melbourne fans. When asked about “taking his talents” to Melbourne, Daniel laughs seemingly not taking himself half as seriously as LeBron James does. He does seem genuinely happy with his move though and is keen for his Tigers experience to begin.
“I’m gonna bring my same game, the same… up-tempo style of game… we’ve got a lot of up-tempo style of athletes on this team with Bennie Lewis, Lucas Walker, Liam Rush, Ron Dorsey… it’s a style I love to play“.
“I know those guys like to get up and down, run and dunk… For the Melbourne city, I think it will be a more exciting team to watch and hopefully we can make a good run as we did in Cairns and make it all the way to the Finals again… that’s the overall plan“.
Having Ubaka and Dorsey joining Dillon in Melbourne is important to Daniel as knowing them and their game style will bring a welcome familiarity to the transition. Bringing in this level of talent will certainly inject new life into the club and with that comes greater responsibility. The arrival of experienced NBL players is also an advantage for the coaching staff, as they know what they are getting, having spent time coaching against the three guys from Cairns. Daniel discussed the reduction of risk when recruiting players that have already succeeded in the NBL. When discussing Dillon’s great performance against Trevor Gleeson’s Crocs in last season’s Playoffs I asked Daniel if he drew confidence from the fact Gleeson had then subsequently recruited him.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in him (Gleeson), he’s taken some teams that no one expected to make Playoffs and he’s done a good job of five years in a row, taking them to the Playoffs and competing“.
“He (Gleeson) likes to run the flex, likes to get up and down, likes to play D full court… that’s stuff I love to do… hopefully he has the faith in me to play me and let me carry on the stuff he’s installed in the practice situations“.
“I’m real excited about practice starting… I’m ready to get at it just to see what happens from that, it should be pretty exciting“.
With Melbourne’s team goal certainly centered around making the Playoffs/Finals, I asked Daniel what his personal goals were for the season. Having felt more settled and comfortable in the NBL last season with Cairns, he considered it more like his “rookie season” than his time spent with the South Dragons previously. Looking to improve in as many areas of his game as possible, Daniel didn’t specify any definitive goals as such. This surprised me until he reeled off all the statistical areas of his game that he wanted to improve;
“Shooting percentages, turnovers, free throws, three point percentage…”
This type of response illustrated to me a player who doesn’t have a personal agenda, doesn’t have an ego bigger than the team and showed a maturity that sees him want the best out of himself and his team.
Not surprisingly, these types of attributes along with Daniel’s unquestioned talent are what have earned him a place in the Australian Boomers squad for their upcoming camp in Perth beginning Sunday. When discussing this great opportunity Daniel talked about the importance of representing his country.
“It should be a goal or pinnacle of anyone’s sporting career to represent their country“.
The camp will give Daniel a great opportunity to jell with Melbourne Tigers captain Cam Tragardh who was given the Boomer call-up last week. Both men will be tearing up the WA Basketball Centre next week with one thing in mind, a green and gold jersey with their name on it.
Any time an athlete gets the chance to represent their country it gives them the ultimate advertising space to display their talents. The International stage did wonders for previous participants Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut and was definitely mentioned by Daniel during our chat. One senses he will gain a lot from this experience and we look forward to watching. From all of us at Hoop Diary, we wish all participants at camp the best of luck.
For the Melbourne Tigers it seems clear that they have recruited a young, experienced, talented and energetic Australian guard that will entertain the Tigers’ faithful this season. Daniel Dillon appears to be a great fit for the club and his work ethic combined with his humble approach to the game will definitely please the club. Barring any kind of (humorous) uniform sabotage, we should see Daniel running around in the Tigers number 12 very soon.
A special thanks goes to Daniel for taking the time to chat on his day off despite the cold, blustery (actually freezing) conditions in Melbourne. He is a welcome addition to the Hoop Diary family and someone we look forward to speaking with again in the future.