“Every practice. Every drill. That’s why.."
WASHINGTON STATE basketball coach Ken Bone leaned against a wall outside the visitors’ locker room at Arizona State, his eyes focused skyward, perhaps watching the Cougars’ NCAA tournament hopes fly away after last Saturday’s demoralizing loss to the last-place Sun Devils. As usual, Bone answered reporters’ questions politely, even though there were few positives to discuss. One exception…
…was the performance of freshman walk-on Will DiIorio, whose hard-nosed play did not surprise Bone in the least.
“Same as every night,” Bone said. “Every practice. Every drill. That’s why he’s in there. He’s a great competitor.”
“He’s one of the tougher kids on our team,” junior forward Abe Lodwick said. “We see it every day in practice.”
DiIorio (Dee-ORR-ee-oh), who had played just 38 minutes in 14 games all year, played a season-high 20 minutes at Arizona State.
The Bainbridge High School product failed to score -- in fact, he blew a pair of free throws and a layup in the final minutes -- but he contributed sterling defense and season highs of four rebounds, three assists and two steals in the 71-69 loss.
“I felt good,” the soft-spoken DiIorio said. “Just tried to do my job, help out the team.”
“I was really proud of Will,” Lodwick said. “For him to come in, in a very close game, a Pac-10 Conference game on the road …”
DiIorio, who turned down scholarship offers from NCAA Division I Sacred Heart (Fairfield, Conn.) and Division II Seattle Pacific and Northwest Nazarene (Nampa, Idaho), said he accepted the Cougars’ invitation to walk on for a variety of reasons.
“They’re in-state,” he said. “My dad (Bill Ayears) went here, ran track here.
“And,” he added, “it’s in the Pac-10. I wanted that competition. I thought I could eventually play at this level.”
DiIorio has been pleasantly surprised that “eventually” seems to be happening sooner than expected.
“I didn’t think I’d play at all,” DiIorio said. “I thought I would get in the last minutes of (blowout) games.”
Instead, DiIorio has occasionally hit the floor in the first half and/or late in close games, primarily for defensive purposes. The 6-foot-5 DiIorio, who is listed as a guard on WSU’s roster but often plays more as a forward, has taken just nine shots and scored only nine points one year after he averaged 18.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game as the Metro League Player of the Year for Bainbridge.
“I feel I’ve improved in different aspects,” DiIorio said. “More physicality and a better knowledge of the game.”
DiIorio said he has no answer for WSU’s chronic inconsistency and slow starts in halves -- “I have no idea” -- but he’s figured out a game plan for winning Sunday at Washington (7 p.m., FSN).
“Try not to let them get any big runs and a lot of energy, because they play off emotions,” DiIorio said. “And when they do that, they’re really good.”