- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Dave Dickerson was a teammate of Len Bias and remembers watching the Maryland basketball star dazzle fans at Cole Field House. Dickerson, then a freshman at Maryland, also can recall the terror of a teammate coming to his door early on a June morning in 1986 and frantically screaming "Lenny" before Dickerson rushed to a Hyattsville hospital to learn of Bias' cocaine-related death.

Dickerson was on the bench last season as an assistant coach as Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter led the Terrapins to their first Final Four. And he will be alongside Gary Williams tomorrow as Maryland tries to get past Kansas in the national semifinals at the Georgia Dome.

"I have seen it all," said Dickerson, in his sixth season back at his alma mater. "Starting with Lenny, who was probably the best basketball player I have played with or against, to the program's struggles when I was a player and now going to the Final Four twice as a coach. Even though I had a great time in college, got a degree and made great friends, I do feel this is a second chance to relive my college days."

Dickerson got stuck in the program's downward spiral that started with Bias' death and led to Lefty Driesell being forced out as coach. Bob Wade took over and things continued downhill. There were losses, and Wade's indiscretions eventually landed the Terps on NCAA probation. Dickerson went from being a wide-eyed freshman watching the team being celebrated to a sophomore on a team that was viewed as a black eye for the university.

"It made me a lot tougher," Dickerson said. "You couldn't let your hair down and I had hair back in those days. There were constant distractions and innuendos. It was a bit overwhelming. All the reasons I chose to go to Maryland seemed like the wrong reasons at the time."

The Terps' top assistant is now drawing notice for head coaching jobs. He has spoken with the College of Charleston and Radford but put them on hold until after the season.

Dickerson, 35, was forced to grow up quickly after coming from the tiny town of Olar, S.C., where there are no stoplights and "maybe one convenient/gas station-type store" to the turmoil at Maryland.

Originally, he wanted to go to college near home at South Carolina or Clemson. Dickerson, the youngest and only male among seven children, was encouraged by his family to pick a school farther north "to explore a different way of living." He fell in love with the College Park campus on his visit and recalls getting "goose bumps" shooting in empty Cole Field House while imagining a capacity crowd of 14,500.

Dickerson didn't play much his freshman season as backup to Bias, but he did soak up the atmosphere of a big-time basketball.

"Cole was jam packed," he said. "It was hot in there. I realized what people were saying, that I had the best seat in the house. I really did."

Dickerson became a starter and captain his senior season in 1988-89 as the Terps went 9-20 in Wade's final year. The highlight of his year came in that season's ACC tournament when Maryland upset top-seeded N.C. State in the first round. "I remember saying this is why I came to Maryland," he said.

Dickerson said he realized in his junior year that he wouldn't be able to play basketball professionally and began considering a coaching career.

After graduating, Dickerson got his first job as a residential director/assistant basketball coach at Gardner-Webb University, a Southern Baptist school in Boiling Springs, N.C. He earned $5,000 for that year, and his priority was to supervise a dormitory before helping coach the NAIA team.

Dickerson spent one year there before reuniting with Driesell at James Madison, where he was the restricted-earnings third assistant but got his first taste of coaching in a bigger program.

"My experience at JMU with Coach Driesell really shaped my coaching life," said Dickerson, who spent one season with the Dukes. "He was very demanding, and we worked long hours. I really appreciated being on a good staff because you spend so much time together. That really introduced me to the importance of scouting reports and an overall sense of urgency."

Driesell remembers him as a good on-court teacher. "I think guys that aren't superstars make better coaches because they have to work hard to be good players," said Driesell, now the coach at Georgia State.

Dickerson then spent four seasons at Radford, where he got his first full-time job, including recruiting, under coach Ron Bradley, an assistant to Driesell at Maryland when Dickerson was a player. It was there that he drew the attention of Williams, and he went to work for Maryland before the 1996-97 season.

"It was the difference between night and day," said Dickerson, of the overall climate change after leaving a downtrodden program seven years earlier. "There was no comparison. There was a winning attitude. The program had gone to three NCAA tournaments. It was great to see."

Dickerson said he enjoys being mentioned as a head coaching candidate because that means Maryland is having success. He feels he is ready to take a top job but is in no great rush to leave College Park and would do so only for the right opportunity. He did get a strong recommendation last week when Indiana coach Mike Davis publicly credited him for providing strategical assistance that helped the Hoosiers upset top-ranked Duke.

But Dickerson's only game plan now is to see the Terps advance to the national title game for the first time. The player who witnessed the bleakest moments in Maryland basketball history is now enjoying Maryland's time near the pinnacle.

"I don't want to look back," he said. "I want to look forward. I appreciate the past. I wish things were different in terms of my college [playing] career, but I enjoyed it and I learned a lot. This is how I imagined things when I played."


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