By TREY WILLIAMS
East Tennessee State assistant basketball coach Brian “Penny” Collins wanted to invite Daniel Boone alumnus Dillon Reppart to walk on to the Buccaneers basketball team.
Trouble was, Collins wasn’t sure who he was or if he’d ever see him again. Reppart had been a vaguely familiar presence when Collins, fellow ETSU assistant Brooks Savage and ETSU president Dr. Brian Noland won two straight back-to-school 3-on-3 tournaments the past two summers. It was clear Reppart was a good basketball player.
“I had to guard him,” said Collins, who played for Rick Byrd at Belmont. “I was like, ‘Man, this kid can play.’”
Collins decided to invite Reppart to walk on Steve Forbes’ ETSU program – provided, of course, he ever saw him again. As luck would have it, Collins and Reppart ran into one another near the Culp Center last summer.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’ve been looking for you a whole year,’” Collins said. “He was like, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘I think you’re a really good ballplayer and we’re trying to find somebody who can come be a walk-on on our team. If this is something you’d really love to do I’d love to have you.’
“I mean I was literally walking to the cafeteria and Dillon was walking toward me and I saw him and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been looking for you.’”
Turns out, Reppart had played as a freshman at Roane State when Collins was coaching JUCO conference foe Columbia State.
“He looked familiar,” Collins said, “but at that time I did not know it was him.”
Reppart, who scored well in excess of 1,000 points at Boone, transferred to ETSU after a year just to be a student. So Collins’ invitation seemed heaven sent.
“I’m beyond thankful for coach Collins and all he’s done for me to put me on the team,” said Reppart, a 6-foot-3 junior guard. “It’s been a blessing.”
Reppart experienced March Madness this season thanks to ETSU winning a Southern Conference tournament title in Asheville. And although the Bucs lost to Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the game was played in Orlando, where Reppart’s father lives.
“I’m blessed to be part of something like this,” Reppart said. “The SoCon Tournament in Asheville – the fan support to me alone has been incredible this year. Over half of that stadium was blue and gold cheering us on. I can’t even explain that. Rushing the court and playing in the confetti and cutting down nets – that’s something I’ve never really been a part of since eighth grade at Ridgeview.”
Collins said Reppart was instrumental in ETSU’s success as a member of the scout team during game preparation.
“Dillon will probably tell you his first couple of days of practice he was nowhere near where he was at the end of the season,” Collins said. “It took him about two or three weeks to get adjusted to the strength and the speed of the guys. But once he kind of got used to it, man, he was great.
“I told him after we won the championship that he had a lot to do with it, because he prepared our guys every day. He was the five man on scouting reports sometimes. And sometimes he was the four man, sometimes he was the two guard. But he was a scout team legend every day at practice. Some days he would give guys fits; he would make all kinds of shots. So I really feel like he was a huge part of us winning this year.”
Forbes doesn’t require a walk-on to do all of the weightlifting, conditioning and other time-constraining activities players on scholarship must do. But Reppart has always done everything asked of the scholarship players.
“He told me, ‘If I’m gonna do it I need to be all in. If I’m gonna earn the respect of my teammates, then they need to see me going through the same struggles they go through,’” Collins said. “And he was right. Boy, those players love Dillon.”
Collins said Reppart initially wasn’t expected to get to travel with the team. Heck, a jersey wasn’t a given when he began practice.
“I told him, ‘You’re gonna have to earn your jersey,’” Collins said. “After probably 2-3 weeks of practice, Coach (Forbes) said, ‘Oh, he’s gonna dress out and I’m letting him travel every trip.’”
Reppart’s glory wasn’t limited to practice. He scored seven points against VMI in four minutes of a 102-75 Bucs victory in their SoCon opener. He made both of his shots from the field, including a 3-pointer that gave ETSU an even 100 points.
“I had seven points,” Reppart said. “I hit the three to give us a hundred points. I don’t know if I missed a shot. It was my night, that’s for sure. And being on the D-I level in the first conference game in front of all my friends and family at home – it was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Williams’ 3-pointer came via a snazzy pass from Jason Williams.
“It was a dime pass from Jason Williams, behind his back,” Reppart said. “It was pretty awesome.”
Collins was all smiles after Reppart’s game against VMI.
“I was so proud,” Collins said. “It was like a validation, like, ‘Told y’all he could play.’ But I wasn’t surprised.”
Things began awkwardly enough for Reppart. Forbes initially called him Stetson. The Bucs had a walk-on named Stetson Moore last year.
“I didn’t know Dillon’s name when he started practicing,” Forbes said. “So I just started calling him ‘Stetson,’ and he’d look at me funny. So I told him, ‘I’ll start calling you by your name when you do something good.’
“So like the second week of practice we’re doing a drill and we’re flying up and down the court and he catches the ball in transition and he bangs a three. And I go, ‘Nice shot, Dillon,’ and he looked at me like, ‘Okay, now you know my name.’ … Being a walk-on is a tough job and it’s one I have a lot of respect for.”
Having former Daniel Boone multi-sport standout Austin Reppart for an older brother has been invaluable in his development.
“He was a senior when I was a freshman in high school,” Dillon said. “He’s had beyond a lot to do with my basketball skill and confidence and toughness. We had (a goal) set up in the living room. We’d get to playing and we end up fighting by the end of the night because of how competitive we both were. That carried on through the years to out in the driveway. We’d always have to be separated sooner or later.”
Reppart is leaning toward getting into coaching – and getting into more games next season.
“I’d have to put on a couple of pounds and make my first step a little quicker to give me a chance to have a role on this team,” Reppart said. “Of course, I’ll be blessed with anything. Personally, I’m just gonna give it all I can. If it works out, then that’ll be amazing. And if not, I can say I tried.”
Collins is excited to see what the future holds for Reppart.
“Stetson actually ended up playing some very meaningful minutes for us last year,” Collins said. “Had we had some injuries, Dillon might have had a chance to play some meaningful minutes. Coach Forbes respects him. And that’s a good thing for Dillon. Now, all he has to do is continue to work and just have that go-getter attitude next year and you never know what’ll happen.
“I’m telling you, he had a lot to do with us winning this year. And that’s something he’ll always remember. … I’m just so happy for him, because if he’d went a different direction that day I probably would’ve never saw him – never found him. I was looking for him and it was meant to be.”