Dillon James is a story which inspires many athletes struggling in today’s world. Playing basketball at McKay High School turned out to be an amazing and rewarding experience – a great decision. He’s ready to continue at the next level – Corban University.
Dillon is the son of Daniel and Trudy. He has an older brother, Blake, and a younger brother, Devin. Dillon was born and raised in Sacramento, California – in the Foothill Farms District.
“Growing up in Sacramento I was always an honor student, my dad always pushed me to get good grades,” Dillon said.
Dillon lived in a middle-income-class neighborhood and was surrounded by friends. Everyone knew everyone. Life was good and things were very normal for him.
Dillon attended Woolridge Elementary School and Foothill Farms Jr. High – both in Sacramento. It was during the grade school days that he found inspiration for the game of basketball. When he was seven years old his dad placed a basketball hoop in front of his house. He started playing with all of his friends and it seemed like he never stopped after that.
“We used to play basketball in the afternoon and continue until it got dark. I want to say almost 24-7,” Dillon said.
Dillon’s talent was beginning to be visible by many. He joined an AAU basketball team called the Franchise Boys in Sacramento. Another year he played with the Phenoms. The last AAU team he played for was the Yellowjackets. He was a major contributor to all of these competitive traveling teams.
“Life was good, I was happy, I loved my family – especially hanging out with my brothers,” Dillon said.
At the end of his eighth grade year, his mom and dad hit a major wall and began struggling with all sorts of issues. This was a difficult time in Dillon’s life, not just for him but his brothers as well.
“My mom and dad went through a divorce – it tore our family apart,” Dillon said.
His mom, Trudy, left Sacramento and moved in with one of Dillon’s aunts in Portland, Oregon. Dillon and Devin were with her. Blake soon followed but settled in Salem, Oregon. Dillon enrolled at David Douglas High School in Portland. His grades started dropping rapidly and he was hanging out with the wrong crowds – negative influences.
“This was the most challenging time of my life. It was a huge setback. I started getting into it with my mom – we were having major struggles. I finally dropped out of high school,” Dillon said.
Dillon would talk to his brothers regularly. Blake was living in Salem with his wife and daughter. It bothered Blake to see his talented brother struggling in life. He cared deeply for him and wanted the best for him. Dillon was feeling the same way – he wanted a better future for himself and he wanted to play basketball – the game he loved.
“My brother and I talked on the phone a lot. He asked me to move in with him. I decided to follow his advice – he took care of me. His wife India has been like a sister-mother to me. Blake has been like a brother-father to me,” Dillon said.
This task was not easy for Dillon or for Blake and his family. Dillon had to attend summer school to bring his grades up before entering his sophomore year at McKay High School. His brother was overseeing his progress in school.
“Coach Dean Sanderson and Coach Matt Espinoza were eager to work with me. Those two guys helped me so much – a true blessing. They made me feel welcomed and they cared about me on and off the court,” Dillon said.
Dillon started changing his life to become a better student-athlete and person. He speaks highly of his basketball team – the teammates made him feel like one of the guys.
“The entire team is what I call my best friends – I don’t like singling out anyone. They were all there for me and supported me. Playing with this basketball team has kept me out of trouble and helped me overcome bad situations,” Dillon said.
Dillon started contributing more and more to the varsity basketball team. He was getting better each year. His brother, Blake, enjoyed coming to the games. Sometimes he had to miss a few because of his job.
“Coach Noza got me started on lifting weights. He helped me develop a lot of my abilities – especially in the off-season. The coaching staff has been a real blessing,” Dillon said.
Head Coach Dean Sanderson and Assistant Coach Matt Espinoza have been positive role models for Dillon.
“Dillon has displayed extreme growth in multiple areas of his life since his sophomore year. His story should be an inspiration to young athletes. If he continues to create positive habits, he will have a great career at Corban,” Coach Espinoza said.
During the final basketball season, Dillon started talking to players on the team that looked a little down. He had been in those situations and didn’t like his friends feeling depressed. He found a way to counsel them and to give them support in whatever they were going through – he could relate to similar situations.
By his senior year, Dillon had brought up his GPA to a 3.2 and led his team to the second round of the state playoffs. He averaged 18 points 8 rebounds per game and was selected to the First-Team CVC (Central Valley Conference) – a two-time first-team selection, his junior year and senior year.
His mom, Trudy, attended a lot of his games – you could hear her cheering loud – sometimes even at the refs. She is working at patching up the relationship between her and Dillon. She wants to be closer to her son as time goes by – cares deeply for him.
There were several colleges very interested in Dillon, but the college he felt most comfortable with, was Corban University.
“The coaches at Corban invited me to their open gym to play with the college players. Coach Masten believes I can be one of his best players in the near future,” Dillon said.
Head Coach Steve Masten remembered Dillon when he was a sophomore in high school. At that time Steve was doing some broadcasting for CCTV – a local TV station.
“When I watched him play I noticed how good of a player he was and how much potential he had,” Steve said.
The coaches from Corban attended a few of Dillon’s games his senior year. When McKay played North Salem you could see them sitting on the front row talking to each other. Dillon thought they might be scouting Malik Leaks – a talented player from North.
“He was definitely on our list all season long. We got a chance to talk to Dean Sanderson. We really liked the things we heard,” Steve said.
Dillon has put himself in a position to continue his education and to play college basketball locally. His family will enjoy watching him play. He has worked hard in his studies bringing his GPA up to a cumulative 3.2 – in summer school he carried a 4.0 GPA.
“He’s worked very hard to get to where he is now. We like that about him. We also like the student aspect of our selection. Dillon is a great student. We were definitely attracted to him – we’re really excited about having him join our basketball team,” Steve said.
Dillon didn’t sit around after his basketball season was over – he went after it – made some visits to the Corban University basketball court.
“We had him come out and play at some of our open gyms at the college. He gave one hundred percent and played great! I actually feel bad saying this, but he played better with our college players than with the high school players,” Steve said.
Dillon is appreciative of all the support he had. McKay was a great place for him to attend.
“We realize that he had plenty of support from McKay High School, his teachers, counselors, basketball coaching staff, and his friends,” Steve said.
Corban University which was formerly known as Western Baptist, has recruited some talented athletes in the past. Players like Brian Hills who holds several records and Jordan Carter who will be a senior at Corban next year. Dillon will continue the talent pattern in the local area. Steve talks about how he likes looking for local talent in the area.
“We are planning on redshirting him the first year. We’ll refine all of his offensive and defensive skills. He needs to get stronger physically. He’ll have a chance to learn how our basketball program works – not just offensives and defenses, but the college setting as well,” Steve said.
Coach Masten already has ideas floating through his head. He has a plan for Dillon – one that will benefit him and help the Warriors in the near future.
“We plan on him playing the 3 position or possibly the 2 position on offense. At 6’4” he’ll fit right into our system,” Steve said.
Coach Masten is exciting about bringing Dillon James into his basketball program. He cares about Dillon not only as a basketball player, but as an individual. He wants the best for Dillon – for him to continue becoming a fine young man on and off the court.
“Well, it’s the tip of the iceberg. Dillon has a chance to do some great things in the future. I feel like we won the lottery. There were several colleges interested in Dillon, but he chose us – we’re very excited,” Steve said.
A formal signing was held at McKay for Dillon. Corban Head Coach Steve Masten, Asst. Coach Drew Ross, and Asst. Coach Dan Hiebenthal were all there. McKay Coach Dean Sanderson was standing next to them.A large group of Dillon’s friends and teammates were there to support him. Dillon’s mom and brothers attended the event with smiles. Dillon recently made contact with his dad and is working at establishing a relationship with him again.
“I’m so proud of Dillon – I plan to move to Salem so I can watch all of his games. I feel excited and happy,” Trudy said.
His brother Blake has been such a positive influence.
“Oh man, what can I say? I’m so proud of Dillon. Moving on and playing college basketball. I’ve always wanted the best for him – now it’s happening,” Blake said.
Dillon stood up and thanked all of the people that showed up for his signing. He expressed that he couldn’t have done it without the help of many. He included his teammates, the teachers, the coaches, and his brother, Blake, and sister-in-law, India.
He likes technology – possibly electrical engineering – the computer science field. Dillon is still undecided of what career he wants to follow – he’ll be exploring.
Dillon, what kind of advice can you give young athletes out there?
Never give up. Everyone has their trying moments. You have to believe in God – he will help you. He’s blessed me with a full scholarship to play basketball for Corban University.
Favorite basketball moments?
When I was in middle school I hit a half-court shot right before halftime. In my senior year, watching my friend, Jacob Brustad, hit a buzzer shot to beat McNary. I also scored 31 point against Franklin.
Who is your favorite NBA team?
Oklahoma City Thunder – I keep up with Kevin Durant.
Favorite College team?
University of Texas
A story no one knows about you?
When I was five years old I once cut my hand in half on a barbed-wire fence. I almost lost one of my fingers. Glad it wasn’t my shooting hand – haha!