As the youngest and only girl with two older brothers (Anthony and Darren Dilligard), growing up as Rochone Dilligard (Lady ‘Noles head coach) meant playing more than a fair share of sports.
"When you've got two brothers and you're the only girl, it's either play or stay at home," Rochone Dilligard said.
And play she did. Dilligard says that she looked up to her two older brothers, and that they took her under their wing. Since five, Dilligard played organized basketball with boys instead of girls. Dilligard says that she was kind of tall for her age and her mother Linda, who was a coach, developed her early.
"A lot of times when you have a really tall kid, the first thing you think about doing is putting them in the paint and my mom always made sure that I knew how to dribble, how to shoot - those kinds of things so as I grew I still had those skills," Dilligard said.
Dilligard didn't play organized basketball with girls until she was 10 or 11. Playing with the boys helped Dilligard groom her offensive game that helped her blossom into the All-American that she was in high school, which eventually landed her at the University of Tennessee where she played for four years under legendary head coach Pat Summitt.
"It helps you develop moves. You really have to be strategic and it increases your basketball IQ a lot quicker because you can't just turn and jump and shoot. You can't just dribble the way you've always dribbled," Dilligard said. "You have to come up with counter-moves in order to be successful. That's one thing that developed my skillset. After getting your shot blocked a couple times, it's not a fun thing to do so you've got to come up with a move. It also makes you a lot more aggressive."
"You can't be afraid of contact, you've got to pretty much welcome contact," Dilligard added. "I can see a lot of that in Shay [Tarver]. She definitely welcomes contact, she's not afraid of it. She actually goes to it. A lot of times when you're more aggressive and you play really, really hard good things come to you just from working, rebounding, getting to the basket - those kinds of things. Those are places where you can score, even if you don't have a high-level skillset you can still be successful."
Under Summitt, Dilligard learned a lot about teaching athletes how to be better people first and better players on the court second. She says the principles they lived by were to stay here (University of Tennessee), to play here and to be successful here.
"There were things that you had to do as a person before you became a basketball player. So I've learned pretty much that you've got to work hard for everything, you have to be responsible and accountable," Dilligard said. "I always tell people, ‘If you can play for Pat, you can work for anybody.'"
Being responsible and being accountable are the two most important themes that Dilligard learned during her time at UT. She has carried those themes over in her teachings as a coach.
"You have to be responsible for your actions, on and off the court and you have to be accountable for them. She wasn't necessarily a yeller. A lot of people see the ‘Pat stare' - that's what they call it - but that is just her way of letting you know that you were not responsible and you were not accountable for what you're supposed to be doing," Dilligard said. "Then there's a discussion after. However, there are consequences when you're not accountable. I believe that's one of the biggest things that I try to carry over in my coaching, because it really is bigger than basketball. Not everybody's going to play after high school and not everybody's going to play after college, but you still have to be responsible and accountable in your life to be successful."
Dilligard got her first head coaching job at Lebanon High School in Tennessee, her alma mater, in 2003.
"Any time you can ever go back and coach at your own high school, that's kind of like the culmination of everything. It really is a big deal to go back to where you graduated from and influence those people in your community that you were able to receive help from growing up as you were getting through. So that was a big accomplishment and very rewarding to go back there," Dilligard said. "I had a brother that lived down here and that's kind of how I migrated down to Georgia. Went to Eastside and ran into a really, really good coach and friend now, coach Gerald [Walker]. He stepped out on a limb for me and asked me to coach something that's not normally done in a female sitting on the boy's sideline. He trusted me and really put a lot of trust in me to do that so I appreciate that."
Dilligard went from playing with the boys to coaching them at Eastside, where she had success coaching Eastside's junior varsity boys' teams.
"By that way of being at Eastside, we'd always played Salem, so I kind of knew coach [Darren] Wilkins when he was a coach and stuff like that. We had developed a friendship just as a rivalry every time we would play so I actually knew him prior to. When the job came available it just happened to be the right timing and it all worked itself out," Dilligard said of how she ended up at Salem.
Dilligard did get the opportunity to coach the varsity boys once at Eastside, and for her she has no preference in coaching the boys or the girls. She says basketball is just basketball. Her love for the sport seems to be the common denominator.
"The only difference between boys and girls basketball for me is boys are quicker, faster, stronger. Girls are typically more fundamentally based, so they really focus on those fundamentals. When you have a girl that is quicker, faster, stronger like an Ayanna [Mitchell], she still has that fundamental base. She still can shoot, pass and dribble and play every position. So she excels as a female," Dilligard said. "As a guy, a lot of times they just rely on that they can run fast and they can jump high, but the elite guys really develop that skillset, that fundamental set. So guys will play hard on the court, because they love to play. Girls will play hard once they know you care."