LITTLE ROCK – Junior Ben Dillard started 14 of 32 games in 2012-13, averaging 6.4 points while knocking down 42.6 percent of his three-point shots and 79.7 percent of his free throw attempts. All of those numbers improved during Sun Belt play, when he averaged 7.1 points on 45.9 percent shooting from three-point range and 81.1 percent from the foul line.
“Just getting in the gym,” said Dillard of how he works to keep his jump shot consistent. “After so many years you get your stroke down, and then it’s just consistency and getting in the gym. Repetition is a lot of it. Getting up shots after practice, before practice – getting in game shots even though you’re not in the game. Just making sure you’re in rhythm once you get out there.”
Dillard scored a career-high 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field and 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range against ULM on Dec. 1. He didn’t miss a shot at No. 11 Cincinnati, going 3 of 3 from the field, 2 of 2 from three-point range and 2 of 2 at the line. Assistant coach Robert Lee says that with Dillard connecting on such a high percentage from the field, the team wouldn’t mind seeing him take some more shots.
“Ben is a catch-and-shoot guy, and he does that well,” said Lee. “The first two years he’s shot a very good percentage from the three-point line. We’d like him to get more attempts up because he hasn’t taken enough shots, in my opinion, but he’s doing a better job of being able to get the ball to the paint and attack off the dribble.“
Dillard enters his junior year shooting 42.7 percent from beyond the three-point line for his career, which puts him on track to pass Alan Barksdale (41.1 percent), who played at UALR from 1999-01, as the school’s career leader in three-point percentage. However, his impact on the Trojans goes beyond outside shooting. As one of the most experienced players on the UALR roster, the coaches look to him to lead by example by showing energy and effort every day.
“I think Ben gives us a leadership by example,” said Lee. “When Ben does speak out, you know it’s something extremely important. Ben plays every possession. Whether it’s offense or defense, he’s going to play hard. He’s going to get to the right position and try to take charges. He really understands the game.”
“Definitely by example,” said Dillard when asked to describe his leadership style. “Having two years under coach Shields and being able to see his tendencies, defensively and offensively, those two years have helped me to lead the guys who have been here for a year, even the JUCO guys.”
Dillard’s leadership and experience will be counted on this season as the UALR backcourt experiences a good deal of change. Sophomore Josh Hagins, who spent much of last season running the point for the Trojans, slides over to the shooting guard spot as newcomers J.T. Thomas and DeVonte Smith look to split time at point guard. Dillard, Hagins and sophomore Kemy Osse all bring strong outside shooting to the table and will compete for minutes off the ball.
“I think we’re going to be a pretty good backcourt,” said Dillard. “I think everyone gets along on the court and off the court. I think we are learning each other’s tendencies, where we’re going to be, regardless of what play we’re running. I think the next few weeks are going to help us with that, so that by the time the season starts I think we’re going to be pretty good.”