April 1, 2000
NEW YORK – Irish point guard Jimmy Dillon emerged from the locker room with one message for the NIT championship.
The tape on his left ankle read, “40 more.”
Forty more minutes is all that remained of the senior’s dream season. The question is whether he could play the full 40 minutes on a severely sprained ankle.
Dillon’s story is a remarkable one and one that goes right along with the incredible turnaround of Notre Dame basketball.
He entered this season having only started two games. When Doherty got the job, he came to the coach and asked if the team started with a clean slate. When he found out that they did, Dillon pushed himself to the limit.
“I’m just proud to be around such a select group of guys,” Dillon said. “I have to credit our coaching staff and our players, I didn’t know how the season was going to go in the beginning with a new coaching staff and a new system. I need to thank Coach for giving me the opportunity to lead this team. Throughout the whole year we knew we had something special, we knew we can compete with anybody.”
This season Dillon finished with 214 assists which is the most on the team.
With 3.4 seconds remaining, Dillon checked out of the his final college game. It marked an emotional moment for not only the senior but also his coach.
“To see him walk off the court, I know the feeling,” Doherty said. “It is not a good feeling. It is tough peeling that jersey off for the last time.”
The senior finished the game with five assists and five points. His five assists in the championship game tied the school’s single season assist record at 214. Dillon now shares the record with Jack Meehan who set his mark in 1970-71.
Dillon currently holds the record for most steals in a season with 66.
“He turned out to be a pretty darn good college point guard,” Doherty said of Dillon. “I am proud of him. He is a special kid and he has overcome a lot.”
His modest figures do not truly lend themselves to the impact the senior had. With 15:43 remaining, Dillon entered the team huddle for the timeout. Instead of listening to Doherty try and pump the team up, Dillon took it into his own hands.
It is that type of desire and passion that will make Dillon very hard to replace.
“Without Jimmy Dillon, we don’t win 22 basketball games,” Dillon said. “It is because of his toughness, his energy, his leadership and his athleticism.”
It is not always the points that matter in basketball. It is the leadership.
Doherty just happened to find an unlikely leader in a kid that rode the bench for most of his collegiate career.