GARY | Hanging out in his father's barber shop in Chicago's South Side was precious for Davon Dillard. The casual conversations, the jokes, the sweeping up of cut strands, the friendship —
"Those were the best days of my life," the Bowman Academy sophomore said.
When he was 8 years old, however, his father, Mario, died of a heart attack at the age of 36. Dillard and his mother moved to Gary and a new life began.
"It was real hard; we were so close," Dillard said. "I stopped playing basketball when I was in the sixth grade because of it."
As Indiana high school boys basketball begins today, Bowman begins its quest to get back to Indianapolis. The Eagles are the defending Class 2A runners-up.
Bowman lost seven seniors, all of them now playing college basketball. That's where Dillard steps in.
The the 6-foot-4 transfer from Gary Lighthouse is being recruited by North Carolina, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, Iowa and DePaul.
"He can jump out of the gym," Bowman coach Marvin Rea said. "He can tough the top of the square. He's very good. He can shoot, run the floor and he can go up and dunk over a 6-7 or 6-8 kid.
"He did it all summer. That's why I'm getting so many phone calls about him."
His mother, Coco Baker, put Davon in gymnastics as a lad. He also was a big roller skater. But another bond with his father was baseball. They spent many hours on a diamond working on his game.
When the family moved to Indiana, a little Hoosier Hysteria engulfed them. Dillard averaged 30 points per game in eighth grade at Charter School of the Dunes.
He only played three junior varsity games at Lighthouse last year.
Bowman assistant coach Kenya Stines coached East Chicago's E'Twaun Moore and Lew Wallace's Branden Dawson when they were Dillard's age.
"Right now, Davon is more skilled than both of them," Stines said. "He hasn't proven it at the high school level yet. He can shoot. He's more athletic than them."
Baker's home is plastered in Post-it Notes containing conversations between mother and son. They all mention homework, academic game plans and even some asking Dillard to spell a word correctly and know the definition.
"Davon is not your typical high-profile athlete," Rea said.
On Thursday during gym class he was playing whiffle ball with the other students, having a blast being just another high school student. Another day he tried playing football with members of the Eagles' grid squad.
Playing for the Meanstreets AAU team, he had coaches like Tom Crean and Matt Painter watching his summer games.
"I had 10 dunks in one game," Dillard said.
"Oh, come on," Rea said with a laugh.
"OK, maybe it was five; I don't remember for sure," Dillard said, "but my athleticism is what everyone is recruiting me for. We will be a dunk show this year."