Penn State fans were treated to some good news over the summer, as 7'0" center Jordan Dickerson decided to transfer from Southern Methodist to PSU. The Brooklyn, NY product didn't make a huge contribution in his freshman year at SMU, but he's a really appealing prospect physically. Penn State fans got some even better news earlier this week, when it was announced that Dickerson was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and wouldn't have to sit out his sophomore year. He's appeared in one game so far, so his role is still unclear. But Penn State does not have a legitimate post presence. Can Dickerson help out with that? If he can't, does it matter?
Dickerson's freshman year at SMU doesn't inspire hope that he is the solution to all of Penn State's problems down low. He never played more than 10 minutes in a game, never took more than 2 shots in a game, and never got more than 4 rebounds in a game. Yeesh. You can't discount the fact that raw, physically gifted big men struggle mightily adjusting to an advanced level of play. Throughout his high school career, Dickerson was rarely matched up against someone who was on par with him physically. Thus, he used his victory in the genetic lottery to dominate the opposition and put up big numbers. But it's not the most reassuring sign that he barely scraped into the rotation on a pretty bad SMU team.
Check this interview with Dickerson from Penn State's YouTube page, specifically about when Dickerson is asked about how to describe his game:
Men's Basketball - Meet the Freshmen with Jordan Dickerson (via GoPSUTV)
Dickerson struggles to find words to describe his game, and starts his answer by saying how much room for improvement he has. I like to see that. After his tough freshman year, he's definitely aware that he can't skate by on physicality any longer, especially now that he's in the Big Ten. Obviously, he mentions his ability to change shots and grab rebounds due to his height. But he talks about how he wants to develop offensively, both inside and outside the post. This will be key for Dickerson's growth as a player. He doesn't need to become Tim Duncan, and knock down the 18-footer in his sleep. He just needs to become a viable option in the post, and be able to use his physicality to finish at the rim. He also mentioned coach Pat Chambers, and how much he likes his energy and passion. Chambers is trying to build a new culture at Penn State, and cares about player development. A legit 7-footer like Dickerson should see a lot of attention from the coaching staff, as they try to realize some of Dickerson's sky-high potential.
Thus far, Dickerson has appeared in one game, Sunday's victory over Mount St. Mary's. He logged 8 minutes of play, and certainly looked raw. He didn't take a single shot offensively, and got posted up by some smaller opponents. But he did block two shots, one of them leading to a layup on the other end. That's the best way for Dickerson to sneak into the Penn State rotation. He blocked shots as SMU, and if he can keep doing so at PSU, that will transform their defensive identity.
Does that mean that Dickerson will be able to go toe-to-toe with the Mitch McGarys and Adrien Paynes of the world? Absolutely not. But right now, Penn State doesn't have height. Ross Travis is 6'6", Brandon Taylor is 6'7", and Donovon Jack is (a very skinny) 6'9". Dickerson's big frame can change the way Penn State matches up against some of the more physical teams come conference play. That's not to say that PSU can't rebound the ball; they clean the glass surprisingly well considering their height. Travis is averaging 8.4 rebounds a game, and guards D.J. Newbill and Tim Frazier are pulling down 6.2 and 3.9 rebounds a game respectively. But PSU's lack of height inside has hurt them so far this year, especially against Pitt. They were out-rebounded and out-worked all game down low, especially late in the game. Just having the ability to throw a legit 7-footer into the paint in games like that and let him bang around down low is necessary for success in a physical conference. He doesn't need to pull down 10 rebounds a game. It's quite possible that Coach Chambers simply needs Dickerson to use all 5 of his fouls making life tougher for opposing big men. But big men don't grow on trees, and Penn State now has one. They need to use him accordingly.
It's prudent for Chambers to try to develop Dickerson. He's got two years of eligibility left after this season, and probably won't go pro any time soon. He's got time to work on an offensive game, and to learn how to use his body effectively. Penn State certainly isn't contending for a title this year, but positive contributions from Dickerson only bode well for the future of this program.