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Dilliard fits right in with Riverdale

It started with just one basket, something so simple that it couldn't portend anything. But after the first quarter, Riverdale swingman Judson Dilliard had scored 21 of the Raiders' 24 points. By halftime, he had outscored Mundy's Mill single-handedly.

With about 30 seconds left in the first half, Riverdale coach Derick Powell looked at the scorer's table to quantify what he was witnessing.

"Our book keeper was like, 'He's got 35,'" Powell remembers. "I was like, 'Wow.'"

Dilliard finished with 49 points, breaking the school record of 40 set by current Los Angeles Lakers forward Josh Powell, on a Feb. 13 night when there was a palpable electricity in Riverdale's gymnasium. Maybe it was because of senior night, with the presence of his entire family and a raucous crowd present to watch Riverdale play a county rival. Whatever the reason, it elicited a remarkable performance from Dilliard.

"It was just a fun night," he said.

Dilliard's senior night exhibition only underscored his role with Riverdale (19-9), which travels to Groves (20-4) in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAAA State Basketball Tournament Saturday. Playing in his final, and only, season with the Raiders, Dilliard ascended into the team's prominent scorer.

"I figured if I came out and played every night," Dilliard said, "I would have an impact for Riverdale."

Dilliard's impact has been profound considering how seamlessly he integrated into Riverdale's starting lineup and the early-season injury to forward Terrell Barnes. His production assuaged what could have been a tenuous period of the Raiders' season with Barnes absent for two months. Instead, Riverdale kept pace in the region standings.

Now, Dilliard enters the state tournament, a stage that onced seemed unattainable as the 6-foot-4 senior toiled on struggling Mt. Zion teams the past three seasons.

Late Februarys and early Marchs had once been spent on the periphery. When asked what he used to do during state tournament time, Dilliard laughed: "Watch and check on stats, seeing who was making it."

Now, he is a key cog in Riverdale's quest to build on last season's Elite 8 appearance. Where once he was strictly a point guard, Powell utilized Dilliard's versatility to play him at both guard positions and even at power forward. But it took time for Powell to assess where Dilliard fit best.

"I really didn't know what to expect from him," Powell said. "He told me he was a point guard at (Mt. Zion) for three years. It took us awhile just to figure out where to play him. He's naturally just really comfortable on the baseline and just has a knack for being at the right place at the right time to get baskets."

Time was not necessary for Dilliard to assimilate with his new team. It was full of players he had competed with or against growing up through sixth grade, at Kendrick Middle School and in AAU teams.

"It was like I was with the family," Dilliard said. "It was just like an instant connection."

Dilliard was granted just enough time in his high school career to play in the state tournament. So though Powell has impressed upon Riverdale the need to attack Groves' hectic zone defense and to commit to rebounding against the Rebels' formidable frontcourt, Dilliard said he can only approach his first state tournament game as if it may be his last.

"I expect it will be an intense game," Dilliard said, "very competitive. I know we're going to bring it. I know they're going to bring it. They're one of the best teams from the south, so you can't do anything but go out there and play like it's the last game you'll play."