BILLINGS — It was the late-night phone call that struck gold.
Last April, Miles Community College women’s basketball coach Taylor Harris spent 90 minutes speaking with a prospective recruit from Sydney, Australia, named Rebekah Dallinger. Because of the time difference, the conversation took place at 2:30 a.m. Mountain time.
Not necessarily ideal yet absolutely necessary in order for Harris to sell his vision to the cerebral and talented 5-foot-10 point guard from Down Under.
Dallinger had already established herself as an intriguing international prospect, but of the stateside offers she had at the time, none seemed like the right fit. She was still scouring the U.S. for a place to land.
Harris, with help from a strong basketball acquaintance in Australia, seemed to know that Miles CC could be a perfect spot for Dallinger — and that Dallinger could be the perfect player for the Pioneers.
“It was a great conversation,” Harris told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. “I think what was important to Bek was to come to a place where it’s a family. I think that rang true for her.
“She told me her dreams of playing high-level Division I basketball, and I told Bek I would do everything I can to make her a better basketball player, a better student, a better young woman and try to get her to her dream school. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Are they ever.
Entering Thursday night’s road game against Mon-Dak Athletic Conference rival Dawson Community College, Dallinger has taken the junior college ranks by storm despite relative anonymity in Montana. Through her first seven games, Dallinger averaged 31.1 points, tops in the nation. Her 74 field goals and 50 made free throws also ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA.
Scoring aside, her 41 assists were among the top 10. She was also at 7.3 rebounds per game. And her ability to play defense against the opponent’s top player each night hasn’t gotten lost in the shuffle.
Dallinger has displayed a complete skill set while acclimating to a higher level of basketball thousands of miles away from home. The scoring makes you look twice. She had 30 points against North Dakota SCS on Jan. 29, poured in 42 points against Dawson on Feb. 2 and had 41 two nights later against Williston State.
And it’s not like she’s hogging the ball; the efficiency is remarkable. Dallinger entered Thursday shooting 60.2% from the floor and 51.3% from 3-point range. Her ability to get to the foul line is another huge asset: Dallinger shot 10 or more free throws in three of her first seven games.
On Wednesday, Dallinger was named both the Mon-Dak and national junior college women's player of the week.
Still, MCC’s unbeaten record and first-place position in the Mon-Dak standings are what stand out most to her.
“My teammates have confidence in me, my coach has confidence in me to kind of just do what I like to do,” Dallinger said. “But I don’t really care about numbers and statistics. I just care about winning and helping my team achieve what we can in the long run.”
Dallinger may be indifferent, but those statistics are going play a big role in her being able to land at a four-year program of her choosing at the Division I level. Both Dallinger and Harris said coaches have already taken stock in her ability, and that she has received contacts from interested schools.
Whether Dallinger plans to stay only one season with the Pioneers or remain for a second year will depend on certain factors. But she’s not concerned with that at this stage. Right now, Miles CC is where she wants to be.
“I think I’m just waiting to see what happens,” Dallinger said. “I’ve had a few coaches message me and try to get in contact with our coach. I’m not really worried about that right now. All I’m worried about is working hard with my team and we’ll sort that stuff out at the end of the season.”
Dallinger came to Miles City having played against top competition in Australia. She’s had experience with her club team, the Sydney North Bears, her state team, the national indigenous team and padded her resume with her school squad at Narrabeen Sports High.
Harris isn't averse to adding international flavor to his roster — diversity is a big part of the college experience, he believes. He also said Dallinger is beyond her years.
“The thing with Bek, she’s just a really smart basketball player,” Harris offered. “Obviously at the point guard spot, she’s 5-10, so she has size, but she’s somebody who has played basketball for a long time against really good competition and has seen a lot of things. She just is able to read every unique situation and she has that vision on the court of somebody who understands the game.
“The game slows down for her, which is very unique for an 18-year-old girl. She can get to the rim at ease because she understands change of pace, and she can shoot the 3 really well. She really loves sharing the ball. She is a really good two-way player. And she works very hard.”
One of five international players on the Pioneers’ roster, Dallinger feels at home at MCC. There are three other Aussies on the squad, including former youth teammate Taryn Mahoney of Sydney. Lili Long of Melbourne has also proven to be one of the team’s top producers.
At some point, because she’s allotted just two years of eligibility in junior college, Dallinger will be on her way to what she hopes are greener pastures at a high level of collegiate women’s basketball. She also has designs on a professional career.
“I think in a couple years I hope to be playing my best basketball in college or wherever, and be playing my best basketball to get my career started,” she said. In the meantime, Dallinger added, “I just want to see our team succeed and get as far as we can and be the best team we can.”
“I think ultimately she’s going to have to decide what’s the best fit for her and where she’s going to have the biggest impact,” Harris said. “There’s been schools ranging from low-major to the highest levels of Division I that I’ve talked to about her.
“But she’s not really caught up in that. She wants to go to a place where it’s a family environment for her and where she’s going to enjoy her experience. That’s why she came to America. A good four-year school is in her future.”
It was all made possible by one fortuitous late-night phone call.