One-On-One With Dave Dickerson

Dave Dickerson certainly didn't expect this kind of first season as a Division I head coach. In this Q&A session, Dickerson discusses Katrina, Tulane basketball and what it's like to recruit to a program devastated by a natural disaster.

Dave Dickerson, the first-year head coach at Tulane, was gracious enough to spend time with answering questions about his program and the circumstances surrounding the most unique coaching debut in the history of college basketball. Through it all, Dickerson has Tulane sitting at 2-4 to start the season and considering what his kids and staff have gone through, that's quite an accomplishment.

What does Tulane basketball look like right now?

Due to the hurricane we started the fall semester at Texas A&M; we're here for the first semester. They are concrete plans to return to New Orleans over the Christmas break. We're playing our first home game Dec. 27 vs. Richmond at Fogelman Arena. The spring semester is going to start January 17th and we're expecting a large number of students to return.

Tell Me About The Weekend The Hurricane Hit

Honestly, no one was prepared but that Saturday morning on the 27th I flew up to Boston to see Steve Blake's wedding. Before I left I checked the weather and it was saying that a hurricane was coming and it was headed to New Orleans and it would hit that Monday. I'm thinking I can go to the wedding and fly back and be there with my family. I took it lightly. When I got up to Boston, I checked the weather and the forecast had changed to where it was going to be a Category 5 hurricane and it was definitely going to hit the New Orleans area head on. The mayor gave the first voluntary evacuation. It was really tough because my wife and son were back in New Orleans and I was in Boston and there was nothing I could do.

As it turned out, I never returned home. My wife and son evacuated to Pensacola, Fla. When she looked at the news she packed up a few bags for my son. That Sunday morning I flew to Pensacola and never returned home. I met my wife and son in a hotel and we were there for 5 days.

What Kind of Loses Did You Have?

My loss was minimum compared to three of our players. We had three guys who lived off campus and the houses that they lived in were totally destroyed. My house wasn't hit compared to the damage done to their houses. They lost their cars, their belongings and two of those players haven't had a chance to go back yet. Actually, all three haven't been back to their houses yet. Their parents have gone back to try and save things but water was as high as 6 feet for two weeks.

Can Anyone Talk You Through This?

That's why it's so difficult. There is no one to call to talk me through this. There is no couching manual for first year coaches that could take me through this. It's been trial and error and it's been a day by day type of journey.

When Can You Go Back And Legitimately Build Your Program?

That's a good question. The things that I lost out on that every new coach gets is that head coaching, first year head coaching honeymoon. It's when they have a chance to start the fall semester, the enthusiasm of the department, going to football games and having recruits on campus. Its then you have a chance to recruit good players to a new direction of a program. You have a chance to drum up the support from the students, talk to different groups (fraternities and sororities) to sell yourself, your program and what you want the basketball to be like. I never had that. Where I have to start with building a program is through recruiting. Recruiting has been difficult. We were doing a great job and had a lot of home visits and campus visits set up. But, we were unable to sign those kids. At the time, we didn't have a campus or a city to bring people to. Tulane is the type of school that the two main attractions are the university and its academics and the city of New Orleans.

Are There Guys Remaining From Your Original List?

There are two. Everybody else that we were recruiting that we wanted signed early. There's only two guys that we started out recruiting and that we ware continuing to recruit now. Actually, there might be three or four.

What's Their Interest Level?

I think they are intrigued with our situation. They're kind of in a wait and see pattern just to see if everything that we're telling them is true as far as returning to New Orleans and having an arena. I think the biggest recruiting sell we have now is our return to New Orleans and living as normal a life as we can. In other words, I think the biggest testimony we have will be our return and the fact that we're their, returning to our city and functioning like every other college. I think that will help our recruiting immensely.

What's Your Recruiting Pitch Sound Like?

My recruiting pitch now … I've always thought that as an assistant coach, you have to do a great job of selling your head coach. My biggest sell will be me as a person, as a coach and the experiences that I've gone through. What's important for me to sell to young men now more than ever is my experiences at Maryland as a student-athlete going through the Len Bias tragedy (Bias was Dickerson's suite mate) and what my experience has been at Maryland as an assistant coach.

If anyone is prepared to help a basketball team and a university regain its national prominence, it's going to be me. The second biggest recruiting pitch will be playing time. Obviously we need to change the landscape of our program and we need to get more players. We have some players now in our program and we need to get better. Aside from the head coach and his reputation, the biggest thing in recruiting will be playing time. We will have a lot of playing time to go around for incoming recruits.

You Mentioned Len Bias, How Do Those Experiences Help?

Just my life, coming from a small town in South Carolina, and coming to the University of Maryland where my first class attended was as big as my home town … living through the Len Bias tragedy and having a chance to coach Juan Dixon, no one in the country was more prepared to deal with this than me. Playing with one of the best players in ACC history and seeing (Bias') demise and coaching a kid like Juan with all of the experiences that he had to deal with, those experiences are the only thing that are getting me through what we're dealing with in the city of New Orleans and Tulane University.

How Do You Recruit A New Player To Tulane?

Good question. We've had that experience. Recruiting is somewhat easy for us now in the fact that by our first conversation and showing up at a practice or a game, I think doing those things with people now and telling them we're from Tulane University and we're going back and our first game is Dec. 27th. That's probably a foot in the door. The perception that some kids have in our situation is that we're done – there's no existence in New Orleans. When they talk to us and see us, it's like "Wow" it's not that bad. Telling parents, coaches and mentors that we're going back to New Orleans and letting them know the challenges we're facing and being honest with them about our situation, we're getting a good response.

Everyone knows about Tulane and its academics around the country. One of the good things that we've done in recruiting is that we took a week and a half hiatus because of what happened and not knowing the direction of the program. But as of Sept. 8, we kept our names and faces in the recruiting crowd.

Have You Been On The Road?

Yes, I've traveled a bit. Especially now that we're located in Texas. It's a great state for college basketball with so many recruits. We've gone to a lot of events, a lot of school visits and we've done a lot of stuff in Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi.

Are You Recruiting Kids Who Have Been Displaced?

The good thing about kids that are displaced that we're recruiting, obviously we have a relationship with them. They know that we're going through the same situation and when we see each other, there's a common bond. I don't mean to be corny, but it's really good to see them and for them it's really good to see us. We can give each other some type of hope.

Does It Take A Special Guy To Come To Tulane?

It sure does. We will not sign a non-believer.

What's A Non-Believer?

Someone that doesn't believe in the direction of our university, our program and most of all the direction of our city. We're going to sign a kid who believes in Dave Dickerson and our university. We're going to sign families that believe in the same thing. We're going to sign some kids who have some backround in Louisiana and New Orleans. The one thing we did at Maryland and did a great job of, was we signed kids who wanted to be at Maryland. Here, the people that we sign want to be a part of what we're going through and the people that we sign will end up being special people.

What's The Goal For This Recruiting Class?

We need a combo one, two and three. Someone who can play a guard-forward, who can create and get his own shot … desperately. We also need an athletic 6-7, 6-8 forward. Really, if everything stays the same and the kids come back who are supposed to come back, that's essentially what we need.

How Do You Overcome Parent's Objections?

To be honest with you, we've lost 90% of our recruits because of that question. That's why now when we do home visits in the spring and go out and see kids during the spring and winter, the fact that we're back there and living there and I'm going to tell parents now that my son is in school back in New Orleans. I took my family back there. I'll tell them that your son will be like my son when he's at Tulane and New Orleans. I have my family there and I trust that I took my family back to New Orleans and they're part of Tulane. My son is in school getting a great education and my wife is at home in our home. We're going to have real life stories. We're going to have to prove to people that its safe and it's a good situation by the fact that we're there and we're going through it. In the fall, we couldn't answer that question because we were displaced and our campus wasn't up and running and our city was in chaos.

Has Anyone Just Called And Volunteered To Be A Part of The Team?

No. We've had 2-3 local kids who are displaced right now, they've indicated to me directly or indirectly to not forget them. Stay in touch and I'll be glad when we get back home to come and see you. Two of those kids lost everything and they can't even rebuild on their property.

How Valuable Have Your Assistants Been Through This?

My assistant coaches have been the only reason that our program has survived through this. They've encouraged me on a daily basis, and the fact that the glass is half full instead of being half empty. With their personalities and their work ethic and their egoless personalities, they've been invaluable to our experience. We only have three assistants, we don't have a director of basketball operations. In other words, the things that we have to do as coaches on a day-to-day basis (washing uniforms, preparing the locker room), we're under-staffed and we have no managers. When we travel the coaches and the players are working. We've created this type of family situation that has really worked for us. The things that we've had to do, we had to take our egos and our years of experience out of the equation and just dig in and do whatever it takes to get it done.

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