A few weeks back, NCAA.com looked at the best long-range shooters in DII men’s basketball. While there were plenty of good athletes to choose from, one stood out amongst the rest.
That's Dalton Bolon. He scores 22.2 points per game for West Liberty, the top scoring team in DII men's basketball at a whopping 104.8 points per night. He’s hit 145 field goals while shooting 48.2 percent and has hit 70 3-pointers at a 42.7 percent rate.
That’s all the more impressive since he’s getting it done with one eye.
Flash backward to the summer. Bolon is playing hoops in an open gym when someone swiped at the ball and hit his eye. The fingernails cut the eyelid, which had to be sutured back on, and there was nerve damage to Bolon’s eye. Since it was nerves that were damaged, he would have to wait a year for surgery.
Dalton Bolon went 9-10 from the field (including 4-5 on 3's) and 9-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to lead West Liberty to a 112-100 win over Virginia-Wise to win their 11th straight game and move to 18-2. https://t.co/UN1cv3RQZg @WLUHoops— Small College Basketball (@smcollegehoops) February 8, 2019
His choices were to play with an eye-patch all season or not play at all.
“I got the text a day or two before school started,” head coach Ben Howlett said. “I didn’t know how serious it was. When I met with him on the first day of school, he told me it was severe. That he had double-vision. I hoped in two or three weeks things would get a little better, but they didn’t at all.”
“I was worried at the beginning,” Bolon said. "When we found out it was long term, it was overwhelming. I wasn’t playing my best, it was frustrating, I felt like a liability. I would say the first couple weeks I thought I would have to medical redshirt, but I didn’t want to. That was the driving force.”
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But Bolon became more and more comfortable as he settled in. He took on the challenges and used that desire to stay on the court. That and a ton of reps in the gym until everything felt right.
“When I first started, depth perception was the biggest thing,” Bolon said. “It took a couple of weeks of a lot of reps and it doesn’t bother me now. I’ve used one eye so much that using the one eye is normal compared to two. Peripheral vision gets taken away from you also. I had to learn to use my neck a little more.”
Then the season started. Bolon dropped 26 points on opening night, and 26 more one day later. By the time January rolled around, Bolon had scored 20 or more points in nine of his first 11 matchups.
It looked like things were just fine in West Virginia.
“By the time the season finally started, it was all normal,” Bolon said. “The first couple games were normal nerves. Then I just kind of got hot. I’m definitely not blaming the eye for missed shots. I tell people all the time, if I went back to two eyes, I’d probably be chucking the ball right off the backboard.”
West Liberty is rolling and hasn't lost since Dec. 9. The last time out, Bolon and the Hilltoppers took on Tommy Bolte and the Concord Mountain Lions. Not only was this a huge showdown between two conference rivals, but Bolon and Bolte are two of the most prolific scorers in DII. Bolte, who Bolon considers the best player he's ever played against, had the better night with 39 points, but it was Bolon’s 3 with 19 seconds left that secured the 110-106 victory.
Howlett praises his sophomore star for becoming a complete player, despite the obvious adversity he’s faced. Known as a standstill shooter when he arrived on campus, Bolon is now multi-dimensional able to score inside and out, while becoming a force on the glass, second on West Liberty with 6.6 rebounds per game.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been challenged every dribble of the way.
“It’s not only his shooting,” Howlett said of the challenges of playing with one eye. “His ability to score inside, I think that’s where his eye actually interferes the most. The outside shooting has become second nature, but when he gets inside it gets tougher because there are so many guys around him.”
Despite the setback, Bolon's improved his all-around game and is making a case for the MEC player of the year to follow up last season’s MEC freshman of the year campaign.
But most of all, West Liberty is pumping out those 104.8 points per game. That's just a fun offense to play in
“This is a style of offense that coach gives us a lot of freedom as long as we play hard and give everything we got out there," Bolon said. "I think that’s what makes it more fun. We do a lot of motion offense, play with each other so much. That freedom on the court makes every night fun.”