Winning 300 games is a milestone in the life of any great coach. Unless you’re Bruiser Flint, who didn’t know he had done it: “I didn’t know I had 300 wins until the NCAA sent me a trophy, I was like ‘Really?’… But it means you’ve had some success, and [Denise] has had a lot of success.”
Philadelphia is a rarity in that it has had an astounding five members of the “single institution” 300 win club right here in town. On the men’s side, it’s been Jay Wright at Villanova, Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s, and Fran Dunphy at Penn. On the women’s side, Cindy Griffin at Saint Joe’s is joined by one of the all-time Women’s Basketball greats, and former coach of Denise Dillon, Harry Perretta and his 762 wins at Villanova On Sunday February 17, 2019, a sixth member was added, Denise Dillon. If you’re in a college basketball circle, and you talk about that group of names, they will be spoken of with reverence. That is the company that Coach Dillon now keeps, in just her 16th season as a Head Coach at Drexel.
At Drexel, Coach Dillon has no company. She is the first coach to ever complete this feat with all 300 wins coming at Drexel University, on either the men’s or women’s side. “To get to 300 wins as quickly as she has, it’s incredibly impressive. It speaks to who she is, and what she is about, she’s an exceptional coach and an even better person.” says Drexel’s current Men’s Basketball Head Coach, Zach Spiker.
In her fifteen plus years as a Dragon, her teams have seen nine postseason appearances, a CAA Title, and a current group of seniors that have a better career winning percentage then the seniors at the men’s programs at Louisville or Syracuse. That shows a continued strength that is rarely seen at the mid major level, and even more rarely seen at Drexel, which is so often considered a challenge to recruit to due to facilities or being a “sixth team in a six team town”. Coach Dillon has overcome all of that, to win and win sustainably. “She gets criticized for just recruiting Catholic League girls, but those girls have brought her success and then she sprinkles it in with a south jersey player, an international player… she figured out quickly the type of girls who could be successful at Drexel” said former men’s Associate Head Coach Mike Connors.
The current team is 18-5, set for another postseason appearance and just a game and a half out of first in the Colonial Athletic Association. The senior class of Tereza Kracikova and Eline Maesschalck are winners, but when they depart, the team is well set to continue to carry the banner of success, as they are getting 94% of their points from the freshman-junior classes this season. A winning program has been built at Drexel and will continue for some time to come.
Off the court, Coach Dillon has been just as successful as she has been on the court. In just fifteen full seasons, Drexel has had five players earn the Colonial Athletic Association’s Dean Ehler’s Leadership Award. Additionally, Nicole Hester won the V Foundation Comeback Award in 2009. Nicki Jones, who is now working as a commentator in the Dragons broadcast booth, was quick to point out where Coach Dillon may have helped her most, “With the type of competitor she is, a lot of people don’t realize that her as a person off the court is why she is so successful. It’s more than just basketball, she cares about each individual player off the court. She took the time to help me out with some family problems that I was going through… that really just brought me close to her and made me realize that I’m not just another player of hers.”
The former Drexel forward raises a great point. No picture of a coach can be written in full from the outside looking in. Stat sheets and trophies only tell some of the story. So we reached out to some friends of the program who have some first hand knowledge of Coach to help finish painting our picture. The resulting image is as clear as it could be, and reads of a smart, demanding, competitor, full of integrity, who has earned the trust and respect of those around her. Below are quotes that have been offered from players that cover all sixteen teams that Coach Dillon has had at Drexel, along with sixteen years of her Men’s Basketball colleagues. It’s with our thanks to them that we offer these thoughts on Coach Dillon, and her 300th win accomplishment:
James Clark (Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach ’07-’12): “Denise Dillon is one of the best college coaches male or female, in college basketball. I’ve been around some unbelievable students of the game and Denise is truly one of the best coaches I’ve ever seen! Her ability to get her players to all buy into her vision is uncanny. She allowed not only me, but everyone on her staff to have a voice, and that is extremely important in the development of young coaches. I learned so much from her on and off the court! I didn’t know her all that well before she hired me but we quickly become family. We both shared the love of the game and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher and friend. I am truly honored to have worked for her as well as with Amy, Stacy, Melissa and Baker! Denise, I love you and I’m so very proud of all that you accomplished at Drexel! Once a Dragon, Always a Dragon!!
Mike Connors (Men’s Basketball Associate Head Coach ’01-’16): “[300 wins] is not surprising to me because she is a Power Five coach at a mid major level. She can compete against any coach in the country. Offensively and defensively [her teams]are always very sound, she teaches fundamentals, she develops girls coming out of high school and there is no doubt in my mind she could be a Power Five coach, because that is what she is already. She’s that good.”
Meghan Creighton (Guard, Class of ’17): “Being able to play for Denise during my time at Drexel was an incredible experience. She pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me achieve goals both on and off the court that I never knew were possible. I am honored to be a part of the Drexel Women’s Basketball family and am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to play for Denise.”
James “Bruiser” Flint (Men’s Basketball Head Coach ’01-16): “She’s always had tough girls. She’s always had a couple of girls who can really score, and everybody else just plays their role for her. I’ve always enjoyed watching her teams because she has always put it together that way, she’s been very successful with it. She’s going to the postseason every year… She’s done a good job with doing it the way she wants, that’s a big deal when you’re a coach.
I keep in touch with the whole staff… we were always very close there. We text and we talk, we’re always going to be good friends, I am a big fan of hers… She’s a good coach, and good people too.”
Bailey Greenberg (Forward, Class of ’20): “Being able to play for Denise is amazing. She not only cares about making us better on the court, but works with each of us off the court so we can be the best versions of ourselves.”
Nicole Hester (Forward, Class of ’09): “Denise Dillon is one of a kind. We started our college careers together: Her first year was my first year so we learned together, but it was like she was born for it because she seemed like she had been a head coach forever. After spending five years with her I soon realized that it wasn’t just basketball that was like that, it was how she was with everything, really calm, cool and collected like she was made for every moment. There is no surprise to me that she hit her 300th career win in such a short period of time, I admire her and I learned to use that in my everyday world; she is an inspiration and a joy of a person. I’m so happy for her and I’m sure she will continue to do great things. CONGRATS COACH LIVE IT UP!”
Nicki Jones (Forward, Class of ’13): “With her staff being all females, having that type of confident, successful female figure for a women’s basketball team is really big… How competitive Denise is and what she is willing to do to win, how her team buys into the system that she gives them, I think it comes down to trust. I think that if you win 300 games in your career and you’ve been successful for so long at the same school, that trust is a really big thing and she wouldn’t be able to do it without that.”
Hollie Mershon (Guard/Forward, Class of ’13): “Denise has always been supportive of me on and off the court. She is someone who has believed in my potential as a basketball player during my time at Drexel and now in my professional career. Her support and confidence in me is something that has helped me grow as both a player and a person. I am so grateful to have had Denise as a coach. Congrats on 300, well deserved!”
Kamile Nacickaite (Guard, Class of ’12): “Coach being tough on me showed me that everything won’t come easy and you have to work for it and earn it on and off the court. She helped me be a better leader by setting an example for me. I am just thankful that Denise and Amy believed in me so much… sometimes more than I did myself! The confidence that they gave me makes me a better professional basketball player today.”
Jasmina Rossell (Sniper, Class of ’11): “Denise was a great coach, mentor and leader… but most of all a role-model. I will never forget her words: ‘Just let it fly Jas, let it fly.’ Because of her I turned into the shooter that I was at Drexel. Go Dragons!”
Zach Spiker (Men’s Basketball Head Coach ’16- Current): “Denise’s staff, managers and players all breathe the same air and understand what they need to do to be successful. If you watch them on a daily basis, and view the work that they put in, it is easy to see how Denise has achieved 300 wins, and how there will be more success to come.”