tampabay.com

'People know who I am now'

Jessica Dickson brings a national reputation, along with an upgraded supporting cast, into a promising season.

By GREG AUMAN
Published November 9, 2006


TAMPA - Jessica Dickson liked anonymity.

The USF senior forward liked the possibility, however remote, that perhaps opposing coaches weren't aware of who she was, weren't spending days leading up to games building gimmick defenses to stop - well, to contain - No. 25 for the Bulls.

"I think that's gone now," Dickson said Sunday, reflecting on what awaits her in her final season with the Bulls. "People know who I am now."

Anonymity is no longer in the picture when you lead the nation in scoring, as Dickson did for much of last season. Or when you're named Big East preseason player of the year, or when ESPN.com ranks its top five players at each position, and you not only make the list as a wing player; you headline that list.

Dickson has the rarefied honor of USF producing a Web site, jd25.com, devoted to publicizing her as an All-America candidate. So with all that attention and hype, she's conceding that defenses will collapse on her more than ever this season.

In fact, she's hoping that will happen. Because now more than ever, the Bulls have other ways to beat opponents. Dickson points to sophomore guard Shantia Grace, to senior center Nalini Miller, to 6-foot-5 freshman Stephanie Sarosi, all wide open when defenses pay too much attention to her.

"That's really what we went after in the offseason," coach Jose Fernandez said. "We developed Miller's face-up game, where she can shoot the 15-, 17-footer. Sarosi can step out and extend defenses. ... Now, okay, if you're going to zone us, you're going to 2-3 zone us, you're going to 3-2 zone us, box us, triangle-and-two, go ahead and do it."

Each season has brought another step for Dickson, a 5-11 Ocala native who was the nation's leading scorer among freshmen three years ago, guiding USF to its first postseason game in the Women's NIT. A year later, she led the Bulls to their first postseason win, against Florida in the NIT, and as a junior, Dickson helped the Bulls make their NCAA Tournament debut.

How far can she take the Bulls? Fernandez believes she'll be a first-round pick in the WNBA draft, and she needs only 66 points to become the school's all-time leading scorer. As much as Dickson has focused on improving her game, driving to the basket more, she's talking more about the upgrades all around her.

If defenses, unable to stop her individually, fall into a zone, Dickson is excited about Grace and junior college transfer Dai Packer: "We can shoot over the zone now," she said. The healthy return of sixth-year senior Tristen Webb at point guard can allow Grace to be more of an offensive threat, and the team's versatility allows for a smaller lineup where Dickson could even play power forward.

Fernandez envisions a rotation of nine or 10 players, and that depth is good for Dickson, who played 37.6 minutes a game last year. Her coach wants that number down, remembering how the relentless playing brought her offensive numbers down at the end of last season.

"She doesn't have to play 39 for us," he said. "She can play 32 and still be fresh at the end of the year, have some legs under her."

In USF's preseason win Sunday, Dickson played only 15 minutes, scoring a team-high 16 points. And though it's just the Miami Sun, a traveling squad of former college players, a year ago the Bulls beat the same team by a smaller margin, and Dickson had 34 points in 34 minutes.

Dickson said USF's talent and depth are enough to not just win an NCAA Tournament game, but to be a Sweet 16 team, to compete for a Big East championship. And while some will say the Bulls can go as far as Dickson takes them, she'll coyly take the attention, confident in what the other players can do.

"I can't do it by myself," she said. "It's the team concept I'm really focused on. We have the potential to be really good, and that's exciting to me."

Greg Auman can be reached at (813) 226-3346 or auman@sptimes.com Check his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/USF.