Minium: Now that 7-foot Dajour Dickens is eligible, ODU has a much better chance of going to postseason play
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
When he spoke at the Old Dominion tip-off banquet last week, basketball coach Jeff Jones drew a huge ovation from about 300 or so people when he said ODU aims to return to the NCAA tournament this season after a seven-year absence.
The news that Dajour Dickens, the 7-foot transfer from Providence, will be eligible this season gives ODU a much better chance of making it to the big dance.
ODU announced Tuesday that the NCAA has approved a waiver that will allow Dickens to play right away. Jones thanked Providence officials, saying the coaches and administration there worked with ODU to help ensure Dickens would play this season.
Dickens starred at Bethel High School in Hampton, where he was ranked the No. 5 prospect in the state by ESPN and the nation’s 13th-best center by 247Sports. He averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds at Bethel, and played for the Boo Williams AAU program.
He played in three games for Providence last season before a back injury ended his season. Dickens will help fill a hole in ODU’s lineup left by 6-10 center Trey Porter, who transferred to Nevada.
A Hampton native, Dajour Dickens transferred to ODU from Providence.
B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, ODU’s co-captains, are the only returning starters, but the Monarchs have good depth on the bench and a recruiting class ranked among the best in mid-majors. But without Dickens, they would have been thin at center.
Aaron Carver (6-7), Xavier Green (6-6) and Elbert Robinson III, a 7-1 transfer from LSU, appeared likely to start for ODU this season, along with Stith and Caver, before Dickens' waiver was announced.
Although Robinson is a big guy, he has a history of injuries and did not play college basketball at all last season. That likely means he won’t be a 25-minute per game player.
Now that Dickens is eligible, ODU has a solid one-two punch at center. At times, you can expect to see Robinson and Dickens play together. How many teams do you know that start two guys 7 feet or taller?
"Dajour provides us with a shot blocking presence," Jones said Tuesday. "He also provides us with additional depth.
"Paired with Elbert, the combination of those two can give us the low-post scoring threat that we’d like to have."
ODU worked out during the offseason and then again this fall as if Dickens would play. But as the Monarchs prepared last week for a closed scrimmage with a college team this past weekend, Dickens began working out with the "white" team at practice, meaning he didn't get any work with starters.
"That was the first time we backed off and that was difficult for Dajour," Jones said. "Today is the first practice since that he will scrimmage. He'll once again be fully invested in everything we do."
While Jones would not go into details about the NCAA waiver, he said he's "extremely pleased" and relieved the process is over.
"It was definitely a positive for our team," he said. "We are very happy for Dajour. I think it was the right thing for everyone involved.
"It worked out the way you would want it to work out."
ODU will be a young team that will have to grow up quickly, Jones said last week at ODU’s tip-off banquet at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club.
“This is the least experienced team we’ve had since I’ve been here at Old Dominion,” Jones said. “We’ve got three freshmen, and it’s a very talented group.
“But they are finding out that they have a whole lot to learn. And they need to learn because we need them on the court.”
ODU’s freshman class is ranked second in Conference USA by 247Sports.
All three were highly recruited. Joe Reece, a 6-8 forward from East St. Louis, Ill., was All-Metro in the St. Louis area and helped his team win back to back state titles. Murray State and Cleveland State were among his finalists.
Kalu Ezipke, a 6-7 forward from Lawrenceville, Ga., was all-Gwinnett County in the second-largest county in the Atlanta area. He was ranked the No. 7 player in Georgia by Hoopseen.com and turned down offers from Middle Tennessee and Florida Gulf Coast.
Jason Wade, a 6-5 point guard from Richmond’s Trinity Episcopal High, chose ODU over VCU, James Madison, Towson, UMass and East Carolina. Wade is the son of former ODU star Ronnie Wade.
“This team is cohesive,” Jones said. “The guys get along so well. But the real question is, when things get hard, will they stay together?
“We’ll find out, but I think we’ve got that kind of team because of the leadership of B.J. and Ahmad.”
ODU finished 25-7 last season and won ten of its last 12 games, but didn’t make either the NCAA tournament or the NIT.
Jones beefed up his schedule this season to put ODU in a better position to win an at-large bid, including road games at Syracuse and St. Joseph’s, a home game against Northern Iowa and an appearance in the Paradise Jam, where the Monarchs face Oregon State in the first round and could also face Missouri and Kansas State. ODU also hosts VCU.
ODU’s last four games are against Conference USA opponents yet to be determined. In an effort to improve the odds of landing an at-large bid, the last four games are “bonus schedule games,” in which the conference’s five highest-ranked teams will play a round-robin schedule.
“It’s unique,” Jones said of the bonus schedule. “Why not try it?
“Everyone wants to try to get a second team in the NCAA tournament. Our league is underrated. And the divide between the top and bottom teams in our league has been drastic. I think it’s bigger that any conference in the country.
“This gives those top five teams a chance to not lose ground” in the NCAA rating system.
Jones is known as a X’s and O’s coach who in the past hasn’t focused on promoting his team. That has changed in recent years, and Jones made an emotional pitch to those to attending the tip-off banquet to bring their friends to ODU home games.
“It’s a big deal in any year, but I think it’s really a big deal this year because of our schedule,” he said of ODU’s home-court advantage. “With this young team, and the schedule we’re facing, we need you big time.
“We have the best home-court advantage in Conference USA. I’m guessing everyone here tonight has already bought their season tickets.
“I’m asking you to talk to your friends and invite them to come to our games. Let’s make it the best environment in Conference USA by a mile. Let’s help these young guys so that while they’re playing this really difficult schedule, we can get every possible win towards fighting to be in the NCAA tournament.”
ODU opens with an exhibition on Thursday, Nov. 1, against Virginia Wesleyan at the Constant Center. ODU’s home opener is Tuesday, Nov. 6, against Navy.
“In that exhibition against Virginia Wesleyan, we have to show growth,” Jones said. “We have to show what it takes to win basketball games. We need our guys to have a sense of urgency right now. Not down the road, not when conference play starts, but right how.
“If we do that, we’ve got a pretty daggone good chance of being good.”
Jones brushed off concerns about his health – he announced in September that after being treated for prostate cancer, he learned it has spread. The cancer is being controlled with drugs.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “If you have any doubts, ask my players how much energy I’ve shown in practice.” He then pointed to Stith and said, “Jason, am I doing OK,” and Stith smiled and nodded affirmatively.
It was Jones’ sixth tip-off dinner.
“When I came to my first event, I saw a lot of ODU supporters,” he said. “When I look out now, I see a lot of friends who support Old Dominion men’s basketball.”
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