Dane DiLiegro shows a ferocious intensity playing basketball for the University of New Hampshire that rarely surfaced during his time on the Lexington High School squad.
UNH’s DiLiegro shoots for a banner day
Lexington grad a leading rebounder for Wildcats
Dane DiLiegro is a basketball anomaly, and he knows it.
A 6-foot-9, 250-pound senior at the University of New Hampshire, the Lexington High graduate is relied upon to get his hands dirty. He takes pride in drawing offensive fouls. He welcomes the contact that comes with setting screens. And when he crashes the boards for a rebound, he does so literally.
Yet, despite the pounding nature of his game, DiLiegro has never been injured during his four-year college career. Two games into his senior season, he has appeared in all 91 games for the Wildcats since his freshman year.
Even he has a hard time explaining his durability.
“I’ve just been extremely lucky,’’ DiLiegro said. “There are times I like to sacrifice my body. I like to take charges. I don’t know. It must be the basketball gods.’’
During his impressive streak, DiLiegro has developed into one of the most productive post players in program history. He ranks seventh all-time in rebounds (649) after collecting 16 in the Wildcats’ first two games this season.
With 1.5 seconds remaining in Tuesday’s game against Dartmouth College, DiLiegro gathered an offensive rebound and powered in the go-ahead basket before his feet hit the ground, finishing off a 13-point, 10-rebound performance in the 55-53 win for UNH.
He has an opportunity to depart as the program’s all-time leading rebounder, but his focus is on wins, and the America East Conference championship, not individual statistics.
“I’d like to lead the conference in rebounding, but if we get a ring and I don’t get the record, I’ll be happy,’’ said DiLiegro.
Of course, for his title dream to come true, the Wildcats will need DiLiegro on the floor. He knows there will be times when he plays through pain, but it’s something he’s used to.
He didn’t miss a game last season after he collided with a teammate during a practice session and opened up a gash on his head that required 10 stitches to repair. He once earned a clip on ESPN’s “SportsCenter’’ ’ Top 10 Plays for dunking a ball with his right hand while his left hand was covered in the blood streaming from his nose after he had absorbed an elbow. Pain still lingers from a broken left wrist that he suffered his senior season at Lexington High.
“He has a really high motor. He never stops,’’ said New Hampshire coach Bill Herrion. “He always plays hard, and he always gives a great effort. He’s relentless.’’
DiLiegro was not always so passionate about the game.
His father, Frank, wrestled and played basketball for the Wildcats from 1973 to 1976. And his brother, Ross, a 6-8 forward, played basketball for Syracuse as a walk-on from 2003 to 2007. Yet, it took awhile for Dane to come around.
He attended camps to learn the fundamentals of the game, but he admits he rarely paid attention. He was more interested in other extracurricular activities like photography and racing motorized scooters.
“When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete or a sports kid,’’ DiLiegro said. And at Lexington High, he said, “I didn’t make varsity basketball until my junior year. I never led my team in points. I was never a captain.’’
Even though DiLiegro was a Middlesex League all-star as a 6-7 senior at Lexington, and played for the elite Boston Athletic Basketball Club’s AAU team, his skills were underdeveloped and he had little interest in playing beyond high school. But a few trips to Syracuse to visit his brother piqued his interest.
“When I coached him in middle school, I was just hoping the progress would continue and the desire button would kick on at some point,’’ said his father. “Going to Syracuse and going into the locker room after their games — it sparked him.’’
DiLiegro prepped for one season at Worcester Academy, playing for Ed Reilly, in hopes of attracting a college scholarship offer. Herrion was one of the few coaches who liked what he saw from the hard-working center with raw skills.
“He was not heavily recruited at all,’’ Herrion said. “His game was behind on the offensive end. I don’t think anyone who saw him in high school thought he would be a Division 1 player.’’
DiLiegro accepted a scholarship offer from New Hampshire, joining a program that had finished 10-20 the season before his arrival. He played immediately, and his skills, as well as his love for the game, continued to mature.
He played for the USA team that won the gold medal at last year’s Maccabiah Games in Israel, and the tourism major said he is entertaining thoughts of one day playing basketball professionally overseas.
For someone who reluctantly picked up basketball as a youngster, it’s clear that he’s found a home on the hardwood.
And now he’s just hoping to do some decorating.
“You walk into our gym and there’s nothing on the walls,’’ DiLiegro said, noting UNH has never won an America East basketball championship. “I just want us to get a banner.’’
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.