What Robert Dillingham’s commitment means to Kentucky | Wender Mind Kids

What Robert Dillingham's commitment means to Kentucky

If you were looking for just one word to describe what Kentucky is getting in its latest five-star commit Robert Dillingham, something like sizzle would work. Or maybe style. Maybe flash. You could even say panache. Pick a word, any word that says You’re going to want to see what happens next. The 17-year-old human peak, who announced his (second) college decision on Friday with the help of Kanye West, is attracting attention. Blink and risk missing the show.

His former high school coach, veteran NBA player and UNC graduate Jeff McInnis and his current grassroots coach have both repeatedly compared him to Allen Iverson. Steve Shelton, director of Nike-sponsored team CP3, disagrees. He thinks Dillingham, a 6-foot-2 playmaker ranked 7th overall and No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2023 according to the 247 Composite, plays more like Kyrie Irving. Both are good comparisons. Bottom Line: He plays with the ball on a string, shakes and bakes the bucket for a circus finish, or soars from a killer crossover into a deep 3-point swish.

“He can really put the ball in the basket in so many ways. He’s a creative goalscorer,” says Shelton. “I’m not saying he’ll be at Kyrie Irving’s level because I think Kyrie is one of the best layup makers in the game, turning it in from all sorts of angles, but Rob is very similar in that regard. He can finish with both hands, turning, reversing, so many different angles around the rim. Our head coach says it’s Iverson the way he moves. Well, is he Allen Iverson-fast? I don’t know but he’s very quick, gets his points, takes his shot whenever he wants and shoots it great from dribbles. You need one, he will get you one.”

In 13 games this spring and summer, Dillingham is ranked third on the Nike Circuit in standings. He averages 19.9 points, 3.2 assists, shoots 52.9 percent from the field, 38.4 percent from 3 to 5.6 attempts per game, and 79 percent from the free throw line. He led USA Basketball to a gold medal at last summer’s FIBA ​​Americas U16 Championship, where he averaged 15.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.2 steals, had a US-record 31 points in championship play, and was named MVP .

Dillingham first committed to NC State in December but reopened his enlistment in March. Kentucky assistant Chin Coleman, attempting to land it the first time, immediately reached out.

“Just to say he wasn’t going to lose this time,” Dillingham said this spring. “When I went to my visit, they showed me all the guards that were there, all their highlights and stuff, and they were all elite guards. I guess hopefully (John Calipari) wants me to be one of them.”

This time, Dillingham picked the Wildcats over fellow finalists Auburn, Louisville and USC. His father, who last year spoke out loud and publicly against his transfer to Kanye’s new Donda Academy in California, fully supports the college decision. Donald Dillingham feared his son, who was born and raised in Hickory, NC, wouldn’t receive the same level of education, coaching, or competition at a rapper startup school across the country. Donald shares custody, so the decision wasn’t his alone, and he was estranged from Robert for months after his son made the move. But now they are talking again, and the father looks to his son’s future with renewed hope.

“Kentucky suits him well,” says Donald. “I think he will do great there with that style of play and coaching. You’re getting someone very special, a great basketball player, and I think Calipari is a great coach, a great person and a great mentor to these kids. I think once Calipari takes him under his wing I will feel a lot better about the situation because he will develop Robert into the best version of himself.”

Everyone around Dillingham seems to agree that playing with other great players and practicing against them every day will be good for him. He joins local five-star guard Reed Sheppard in the 2023 British class, and now the Wildcats will look to secure the most talented backcourt in America by capturing DJ Wagner, a combo guard who is a No. 1- Add player in class. Wagner’s father, Dajuan, played for and loves Calipari. But his grandfather Milt was playing for rivals Louisville, where he just joined the staff of his best friend Kenny Payne. Some will see Dillingham’s signing as a sign that Britain knows they won’t get Wagner, but Calipari remains confident he can land both.

He can point to several examples of ball-dominant five-star guards not only coexisting but complementing one another on the same backcourt in Kentucky, starting with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe in his first class. Calipari has spoken to both Dillingham and Wagner about how they fit together, and Dillingham has said publicly that he would welcome this tag team.

“I can’t speak for Wagner, but Rob doesn’t mind playing with other talented guards at all,” says Shelton. “He and Aden Holloway (a top 40 point guard) wanted to play with us. I think it will be good for Rob.”

And if Wagner came and wanted to play point guard: “I think Rob is more of a two guard anyway. He played a couple of times with our U17 team last year and we didn’t have a point guard. We asked if he could and he said, ‘I’d rather slide over to them.’ I just think he prefers not to be on the ball. He still wants it in his hands, of course, but he’s a goalscorer who likes to play down the wings.”

Dillingham took up the game very early and naturally, accompanying his aunt who worked at a local recreation center and an older cousin who was Hooper. Before he was even old enough to go to kindergarten, he would play against older kids all day and come home bragging to his dad about how he dominated the big boys.

“I remember saying, yeah, okay, my son tells amazing lies,” says Donald. “But then he scores 16 points in his first game at the YMCA. Next game, 16 points. Next game, 30 points. These little kids score four, five, six points and that’s a lot for their age. But Robert just blew her mind and I knew there was something different, that he was special. I coached him from about 5 to 11 or 12, then I had to take my hands off him and let someone else take over. He did things I’d never seen before, and that’s where a father can hurt a child. You can get tunnel vision coaching for your own child. I had to let someone else take me further.”

But first an unforgettable road trip. One of the last times Donald Robert coached — he also coached his older brother Denzel, who became an all-conference player at Paine College Division II — drove their team in a van all the way to Miami for a youth tournament. Throughout that long drive, other coaches and teammates shared stories of just what a legendary trash talker young Robert already was. Donald refused to believe it. “My son doesn’t talk nonsense,” he insisted over and over again. After all, he would have noticed it from the sidelines during coaching.

“So we go down to play the first game and Robert runs away like 25 points and we win and the referee comes up to me not knowing I’m his dad and says, ‘This number 3 here is a great basketball player but can you tell him to stop talking nonsense to the other kids?’ Sure, okay. I still didn’t believe it. Then we play our next game, same. Robert walks away, shoots a ton, and another referee comes and says, ‘This No. 3 is a good player, but could you tell him to stop talking nonsense to the other kids?’ It was true, my son is a trash talker. I guess he did it quietly or something.”

But why? Well, when you’re as talented as Dillingham, you get bored sometimes. With a little hiss, a pinch of lightning, a pinch of panache, you create your own excitement. If that means yelling at a poor kid, you’re already demeaning yourself, then so be it.

“The angrier he gets, the better he plays,” says Donald. “He doesn’t lose control but likes to feel challenged. If the game is too easy, he can’t play. But if he thinks you’re trying to outdo him, he won’t let you. Even if he’s just making it up. He just has that edge, that killer instinct. Whenever Robert is focused, nobody can stop him.”

(Top photo by Robert Dillingham: Kyle Tucker/ the athlete)

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