In Jordan Dickerson, Men’s Hoops Has Found A Very Large Leader
Jordan Dickerson’s adventures on the basketball court in his first two seasons as a Nittany Lion fall into roughly two categories. The first are the massive blocks that left opposing teams grimacing and the Bryce Jordan Center (relatively) rocking with joy. The second was an equally comical, endearing, and frustrating offensive skill set that saw the SMU transfer in awkward body positions, and leaving point-blank shots woefully off-target.
Dickerson, now a senior, will look to do more of the former and less of the latter, while making a conscious effort to add another title to his name: leader.
“One thing I’m working on this year that I haven’t really worked on before is leadership, being more vocal on the court, being more vocal off the court, and trying to get the young guys to understand what Penn State is about,” Dickerson said last week at the team’s media day. “That’s my main focus.”
Dickerson is hard to miss. He stands 7-foot-1, and is the team’s tallest player by three inches. He’s lanky, but added muscle to his frame in the past two years has helped him compete, though not always thrive, against the elite forwards of the Big Ten.
His play (he averaged 2.6 points and 3.3 rebounds a game last year) may not have provided him the leadership credentials that D.J. Newbill assumed, but he was an emotional spark that could provide dramatic bursts of defense in close situations, and bail out the foul-prone Donovon Jack on numerous occasions. This year, Dickerson will look to continue to bring that #relentless energy head coach Pat Chambers preaches, but focus it in a more leadership-oriented direction.
“I needed to work on a lot, but the biggest thing I’d say is mental toughness, knowing what to do in certain situations, fighting through and persevering in any obstacle — be it fatigue, or bad reffing,” he said. “We got a couple bad calls last year and I showed some emotion towards the calls, so I’m learning to control myself, work on my bad body language, and just help my teammates out as much as I can.”
Dickerson’s emergence as a leader should prove to have come at an opportune time: A trio of elite recruits (two of them are forwards that stand at least 6-foot-6) provide Dickerson with a set of understudies, both height-wise and in age. Dickerson said his advice for the group of freshman — which includes Josh Reaves, Deividas Zemgulis, Mike Watkins, and redshirt Isaiah Washington — is to “just work.” He stressed that they remain levelheaded, enjoy their time, but take pride in working hard to accomplish their goals.
“What I see in this group is just work ethic; we come in every day and don’t expect anything. Everybody knows we’re great guys off the court, but when we step on the court we compete,” he said. “And I think that’s something that really helps us, because we have a lot of young guys. A lot of people come into college and get a little air-headed, but not this group. This group is really humble, the freshmen do a really good job of keeping up with the veterans, and we just compete everyday.”
Brandon Taylor, another returning senior that will be called upon to lead, furthered Dickerson’s assessment of the ready-to-go freshman class.
“I’ve just seen a willingness to learn and get better, not just hold on to their past, their great basketball careers, but to try to get better,” he said. They came in and they were anybody else.”
Dickerson’s drive to lead came at least partially from the improved play he — and Penn State — enjoyed during a Big Ten Tournament run that saw the Lions knock off several strong conference teams before falling in a close showdown to Purdue.
“I see other teams and I think to myself, ‘We’re just as good as them,’ and I try to pick out what we do that they don’t do,” he said.
The tournament run, which followed a miserable conference season after an inspired 12-1 non-conference start, featured Chambers writing “Why Not Us?” on his whiteboard during a timeout. Picked up by television cameras during the game, the phrase quickly spread over social media, and became a motivator for Penn State last year, and Dickerson this year.
“At the time we didn’t think much of it, but it turned into a thing, like yeah, why not us,” he said. “We worked hard enough, we put in the time, so why not us?”
It’s the same question Dickerson is asking this year, both about Penn State and his own play. Jack struggled last year, and while fellow big man Julian Moore saw improvement, Dickerson seems like at least a possible opening-day starter at center. If anything, he certainly sounds motivated.
“This is my last year, and the way I see it, I’ve got to leave it all on the floor. I’ve talked to Coach, I know what he needs from me. Everyday I’m just trying to meet his expectations and more, just trying to be the first one in the gym, last one out, doing extras for anything,” he pledged. “It will make a difference.”