UNIVERSITY PARK — Six days removed from his career night, Jordan Dickerson could finally see how he fit into Penn State’s plans this season.
The SMU transfer sat out the first 12 games of the season before becoming eligible to play. It took him another nine games before he understood the difference he could make, the realization finally hitting him after logging a career-high 22 minutes in the Nittany Lions’ upset of Ohio State in Columbus.
Dickerson recorded a career-high five blocks and scored a career-high four points against the Buckeyes.
“At the start of it, it was kind of iffy,” Dickerson said before practice in February. “I kind of struggled, but I think these past few games I’ve just been finding my role.”
His self-described role at that point was to bring energy on the defensive end. He mentioned the offensive end, only to say his job came down to rebounding to create second-chance opportunities.
In the 12 games since Dickerson’s first breakthrough, he’s slowly expanded his game. The process will continue for Dickerson and his teammates when Penn State (16-17) takes on Siena (16-17) in Albany, N.Y., in the College Basketball Invitational quarterfinals Monday at 7 p.m.
“I like the direction we’re headed in,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said during a teleconference Friday. “As coaches, we love practice and we love to work with younger guys and try to get them better, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Dickerson has started the last six games and seen an increase in minutes. He’s averaging 3.3 points and 3.2 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game during that stretch.
The 7-0 center is averaging 1.3 blocks for the season. That skill, with his height and length, was never in doubt.
But he emerged as another potential playmaker after the win over Ohio State in late January. And Chambers was excited at the possibilities for his young frontcourt of Dickerson and Donovon Jack.
Before Dickerson outlined his role prior to that practice back in February, Chambers said he could see his previously unproven big men turning the corner.
“In the summer, we didn’t know where this would be,” Chambers said. “This was our greatest weakness. Now, I think it’s become our greatest strength.”
The coach’s comment was tied to the timely blocks by Dickerson and Jack that helped propel the Nittany Lions to three straight wins.
Dickerson’s offensive game at that point was limited to finishing an open layup. He rarely caught the ball in the post, and didn’t see the ball much on pick-and-rolls.
But as he saw more time down the stretch, he showed the ability to make a strong move in the paint. Though Dickerson’s still not a consistent offensive threat — his breakthroughs limited to a few plays each game — Chambers continues to see progress.
In Penn State’s win over Hampton in the first round of the CBI, Dickerson grabbed a rebound and made a quick move on the right baseline to get to the basket. The center was fouled on his shot attempt.
That play signaled promise for the future.
“How about his baseline move?” Chambers said after the win. “Let’s talk about that. That was a great baseline move. He got fouled. He did some good things.”
In early February, Dickerson felt his role was starting to come into focus.
He’d play defense, play hard and crash the boards. But his role is already evolving as Penn State plays this postseason with an eye on next season.
The Nittany Lions will need Dickerson to become a threat on the offensive end. The question heading into this summer will be whether he accomplishes that in addition to protecting the rim.
Back in February, the big man was staying within himself and starting to see results in his first season at Penn State.
“That’s all I care about is just trying to get on the court and do what I can to help my team out,” Dickerson said. “I think it’s just important that I just play hard and I really don’t worry about anything else.”
Notes: Penn State’s game against Siena will be televised on CBS Sports Network. … The CBI will re-bracket the field after the quarterfinals. The other matchups remaining are Princeton-Fresno State, Texas A&M-Illinois State and Radford-Old Dominion. … The Nittany Lions beat the Saints in the teams’ only previous meeting in the 2000 NIT. … Rob Poole leads Siena in scoring with 14.8 points per game and in 3-pointers with 61. Poole shoots 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. … Marquis Wright led the MAAC in assists as a freshman. He’s averaging 5.5 assists per game. … Siena went 11-9 in MAAC play.