Foes to friends, local duo leading MU

Cody Dillon and Nate Jacubec didn’t try and hide their disdain for each other. In fact, they just came right out and said it.

“I played against him in high school quite a few times, and we hated each other,” said Dillon, a 2012 Newton Falls graduate who’s now freshman at the University of Mount Union.

That’s cool with Jakubec, a 2011 Struthers High School graduate who’s now a sophomore at Mount Union. He didn’t really care for Dillon either, and furthermore, his Wildcats beat Dillon’s Tigers two out of the three times they played.

“He knows who’s better,” Jacubec said.

The back-and-forth trash talking has reached an all-time high more recently, mainly because the two joined forces on the Purple Raiders’ basketball team and have more time to remenisce about the old-school matchups.

And, well, it’s always easier to make fun of a friend.

“We joke around about it all the time,” said Dillon, who quickly added that he fondly remembers Newton Falls beating Struthers his freshman year. “We bicker back and forth about how we hated each other. It’s funny. Now we’re together every day and hang out all the time. I never would have thought I would be one of his close friends.”

Apparently, college does strange things to kids.

While their friendship has changed, their basketball skills stayed the same. Dillon and Jacubec, both guards, are starters for the Purple Raiders (11-12, 9-7 Ohio Athletic Confernece). Jacubec was the OAC Freshman of the Year last season, and he leads the team in points (15.3), steals (1.3) and minutes (33.1) this year. He’s also second on the team in rebounds (5.2) and assists (2.5). Dillon has started every game as a true freshman. He too is having a solid campaign, averaging 8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds through his first 22 games in college.

Both said the transition to NCAA basketball was a bit of a process. The shot clock was new. The players were bigger, stronger, faster and more polished. And practices were more difficult than ever before.

“It’s just game speed,” said Dillon of the biggest challenge. “It’s a lot faster. Everyone on the court is just as good as you or better. So if you have any weaknesses, they’re going to attack them. It’s a lot different (than high school).”

Strangely enough, Jacubec is a big reason Dillon chose to attend Mount Union. Despite his past dislike for Jacubec, he respected his skills, and he figured if Jacubec was playing for the Purple Raiders, they’re probably recruiting pretty good players. He also said Jacubec helped him get acclimated to the college game. He emphasized the importance of defense and watching film, and Dillon’s acceptance to the new duties, along with a strong work ethic, helped him earn a starting job.

The two have continued to work together since then, and their past knowledge of each other’s game actually helped them create a chemistry.

“That helps a lot, knowing his strengths,” Jacubec said. “I usually had to guard him in high school, so I kind of knew what he had. And we’re close, so the chemisty is coming together now – as a team, really.

“We’re bonding more as a team. We’re on campus together, so we kind of act like a family, and I think that helps.”

Dillon and Jacubec make up a strong, young core for the Purple Raiders, who are in a two-way tie for fifth place in the OAC. Mount Union hasn’t finished a season over .500 since 2004-05 and hasn’t recorded a winning record in the OAC since 2003-04. The duo said the Purple Raiders are dead set on turning things around.

“I think the sky’s the limit,” Dillon said. “We could be really good, if we challenge ourselves in the offseason and in the weight room. I think we can contend for a league championship and hopefully do better than that.”