Fighting Pandas

Jimmy Dillon loves basketball.

That’s why he got involved with Hoops 24–7, a basketball academy that helps children learn everything from fundamentals to elaborate skills that will help them at the next level.

But Dillon is the director, which means he’s often doing things like paperwork or other tasks that, while important, don’t have a lot to do with basketball.

Many times, while his staff of great trainers are working with the kids, Dillon is doing the other things.

Dillon’s true love, though, is teaching.

Jimmy Dillon, a 1996 graduate of Holy Ghost Prep, helped Notre Dame reach the finals of the NIT during his junior season. PHOTO: JIMMY DILLON

“I’m always trying to teach because I’ve learned so much from so many great coaches and I like helping,” Dillon said. “When I’m able to get in there and teach, that’s my favorite part. The other things need to be done.”

Luckily for the Nazareth Academy High School basketball team, Dillon is able to get back to his roots.

Dillon was named the new coach of the Nazareth basketball team, and in that role, he’ll be able to get right down to business. And the team is getting a man with a wealth of experience.

The 1996 graduate of Holy Ghost Prep went on to star at Notre Dame, which he helped lead to the NIT championship game in 2000. He also played professionally in Europe for a few years.

“I’m really excited, we were able to make this work for everyone and I can’t wait to get started,” said Dillon, who grew up not far away in Millbrook and attended Our Lady of Calvary grade school.

The feeling is mutual.

Nazareth is coming off a down season, finishing 5–18, including 0–12 in the Catholic Academies League. Much of that can be attributed to Nazareth having a young team and the league being extremely competitive.

Next year, the goal is to be among those elite teams in the division, and the school is banking on Dillon’s expertise to make it happen.

“Jimmy has all of the qualities that we want in our athletic program and he understands the mission of the school,” said Nazareth athletic director Dan Bradley. “His playing career speaks for itself, but more importantly, his passion to teach the game of basketball is evident.

“This was a long process, with many great candidates who applied, but at the end of the day, we found someone who is hungry to coach, has a passion for the game, and shares the goals of the school and the athletic department.”

Dillon has been around basketball his entire life, and he’s no stranger to coaching girls, which he does at Hoops 24–7.

“Girls are much easier to coach, I think, because guys think they know everything, while girls do a better job listening,” Dillon said. “Girls want to do well for their coaches, while boys will go out and try to do whatever they want to do. I think it’s easier to coach girls.”

It probably helps that Dillon has experience teaching girls how to do things.

He and his wife, Jaclyn, have two daughters, 7-year-old Reese and 5-year-old Aubrey.

“I love being around my girls, and I love coaching them and helping them,” Dillon said. “My oldest is more a girl, she plays, but my youngest is very competitive. She has so much energy and loves running around.”

That must mean she takes after dad.

Dillon still loves to get on the court and bury jump shots.

He also loves teaching players the ins and outs. It’s something he’s always wanted to do, not just because he loves being around the game but because it gives him a chance to do for others what others have done for him.

“I had great coaches who helped me and I like doing that,” Dillon said. “I’m happy I’m able to do it. I do it and I’m blessed to give back. I’ve learned a lot, playing at Notre Dame and having some success there and then going on to play a little bit overseas. Now I’m able to pass it on and help teach others. And now I get to do it at Nazareth. It’s perfect.”

He’s excited about teaching the game, but he also is excited about the prospects of winning.

He didn’t take the job to lose.

“We want to get the program to where it should be,” Dillon said. “I haven’t met with all of the players, I’m doing that now, and we’re ready. We want to compete and get better. We’re starting now.”

Prospective students who want to meet Dillon to learn more about the basketball program are invited to go Nazareth Academy’s open house on May 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the school. ••