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NBA PM: South Dakota’s Dickerson Gets Opportunity

Trey Dickerson transferred to South Dakota for a bigger opportunity. Now, he must take advantage of it.

Cody Taylor

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South Dakota’s Trey Dickerson Gets His Opportunity

The process of transferring as an NCAA athlete is often described as long and grueling. It’s easy to see how the process can be frustrating considering that most transfers are required to sit out a year before gaining eligibility at their new school.

Some players have been able to find ways to avoid sitting out, but those cases are rare. So, for most of these athletes, much of their first year with their new team is spent watching from the sidelines. They are left as spectators as they watch their teammates play on without them.

For these players, it can be easy to let the situation negatively impact them. Usually, players sitting on the bench in street clothes have an injury of some sort and can’t play. But, for transfers, they have to watch the game completely healthy without the opportunity of playing.

For South Dakota transfer Trey Dickerson, it doesn’t seem as though the transfer process has slowed him down much. In fact, Dickerson has embraced his transfer and is taking advantage of it the best that he can – by learning the new system and improving everyday.

That’s not to say that he wasn’t disappointed by the NCAA’s decision to declare him ineligible following his transfer from Iowa. He was upset with the decision. He wanted to play and help his new team win, but it was something he expected as a player transferring.

“At first I was kind of upset about it,” Dickerson told Basketball Insiders. “I always thought about not playing this season, but it didn’t hit me until I found out. I was thinking, ‘Alright, now it’s real. This is really something that I’m going to have to really go through.’

“I was upset at first, but then I talked to the coaching staff and my other teammates that have to sit out this year, [and] it wasn’t really that hard. I just wanted to look at the positive of getting better and getting ready for next season. After that, I got pretty mature about the decision the NCAA made.”

Dickerson’s path to South Dakota has taken him virtually all over the country. He played high school ball in New York and Los Angeles, before playing prep school in Dallas. He committed to play at Murray State briefly, but ultimately decided to play a year in junior college, where he made a name for himself.

Dickerson became the Mon-Dak Conference MVP during the 2013-14 season after averaging 19.8 points, 5.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds in 29 games at Williston State. He became the No. 1 ranked point guard and 10th overall prospect in junior college, while also earning NJCAA Third-Team All-American honors.

Following his successful campaign at Williston State, he opted to commit to Iowa. After having such a huge role in junior college, he didn’t seem to have a large role with the Hawkeyes. He appeared in just 15 games and averaged less than 10 minutes a contest. Dickerson was understandably unhappy with the lack of playing time, and decided to transfer. This time, he was transferring to South Dakota, where he was very comfortable with the coaching staff.

“Honestly, the reason why I picked South Dakota is I really just wanted to go somewhere where I could show my game and really have a chance to make our team get on a higher level,” Dickerson said. “South Dakota is an up-and-coming school on a mid-major level. [I was also] looking at the draft. If you put up your numbers, you’ll get your chance.

“[South Dakota] head coach [Craig] Smith was the first high-major coach to recruit me when I was in junior college. He was at Nebraska and was the first coach to offer me and really take me serious and believe in me. Then my junior college coach is also here at South Dakota as an assistant. My other two coaches are really great, too. It kind of made it a lot easier.”

Since arriving to South Dakota, Dickerson has made the most out of his time so far. He’s using his time off of the court as a chance to familiarize himself with a different system. He’s getting to know his new teammates and is adjusting to playing with them in practice. As a point guard, he must be comfortable playing with his teammates and leading them on the court.

Perhaps the biggest improvement Dickerson has made since joining South Dakota has happened in the weight room. He arrived in South Dakota weighing about 165 pounds, and today weighs 184 pounds. He’s made it a point to get stronger, and it’s paid off after adding nearly 20 pounds this season.

Now, Dickerson finds himself in a position where he can really make a name for himself on a bigger level. Although South Dakota is in a mid-major conference, it’s a huge step up from the junior college level. South Dakota is a part of the Summit League, which currently boasts the 10th-best RPI rating, according to CBS Sports.

“My first year, I honestly want to go to the NCAA tournament and make a run,” Dickerson said. “I want to win the Summit League, which we have to do to go to the NCAA tournament. I just want to lead my team and win. I want to do something like how Wichita State did – go on that undefeated run. I want to put my school on the map by being undefeated for so long.

“We have a new arena being built right now that opens up next year. We’ll start off in there; I really don’t want to lose in there. I want an undefeated home record and everything. I really want to win.”

South Dakota is considered to be a young team on the rise. They have only five seniors on the team, with the rest of the roster made up of mostly underclassman. The program is also in a bit of a unique situation, as they have three total transfers arriving next season as well. In addition to Dickerson, they have Matt Mooney transferring from Air Force and Carlton Hurst from Colorado State.

With two other players arriving at South Dakota with Dickerson, it’s made the transition much easier to go through. When the team travels to away games, the three transfers can stick together and continue working out together. Dickerson lives with Hurst, so the two often talk about the challenges of transferring and can help each other through the process. The three of them figure to be key members moving forward next season.

“We just want to win and make the program good,” Dickerson said. “When we watch them and we see them losing, we know we really can’t play. It’s really difficult; we use it as motivation. We always say, ‘We’re going to remember this time for next year, so when it comes to play, we won’t take it for granted.’

“With us coming from higher-level programs, we’re going to have a lot of pressure on us. A lot of people are going to expect us to prove that we can turn this program around. I think we’re going to have the same chip on our shoulder. We want to show and prove that we’re just as good as the guys on the high-major schools. I feel like there’s really no pressure because this is something we all came here to prove anyway.”

It’s clear that Dickerson has high expectations for next season. He also doesn’t seem distracted by the pressure that comes with being the top-ranked point guard out of junior college.

He looks up to players like Damian Lillard and Elfrid Payton since they are guards who have come out of mid-major schools and experienced success in the NBA. He saw the work they put in to be at the level they’re at now. Both were lottery picks after becoming virtually the best players to come out of their school; he wants to follow in their footsteps.

It’s often said that it sometimes takes the perfect situation for a player to stick in any level of basketball. He’s bounced around several different schools up to this point looking for an opportunity to showcase his game. He’s playing for several coaches that he’s comfortable with and has had prior success with. He has two other players transferring in that have helped each other through the process.

It seems as though he’s finally found a situation where he can excel in. Now, it’s on him to take that opportunity and run with it.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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College Headlines

Report: NCAA Announce New College Basketball Policies

Basketball Insiders

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The NCAA adopted a sweeping series of policy and rules changes Wednesday that it hopes will clean up college basketball, which has been engulfed by an FBI investigation and other corruption over the past two years.

Among the significant changes that were adopted by the NCAA’s board of governors and Division I board of directors are allowing elite high school basketball recruits and college players to be represented by agents who are certified by the NCAA; allowing eligible underclassmen to enter the NBA draft and return to school if undrafted; introducing more rigorous certification requirements for summer amateur basketball events; and imposing longer postseason bans, suspensions and increased recruiting restrictions for coaches who break rules.

“These changes will promote integrity in the game, strengthen accountability and prioritize the interest of student-athletes over every other factor,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We remain committed to promoting fairness in college sports and creating an environment that will champion the success of student-athletes.”

Source: Mark Schlabach of ESPN

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NBA

NBA Daily: Junior Robinson: “Size Doesn’t Matter”

Junior Robinson talked to Basketball Insiders about the Pro Basketball Combine, his athletic family tree and that killer on-court fearlessness.

Ben Nadeau

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At just 5-foot-5, Junior Robinson is easily one of the shortest players to go through the draft process in some time. But after four successful seasons at Mount Saint Mary’s, Robinson refuses to let his height define him as he reaches for the next level in his ever-evolving basketball journey.

In May, Robinson was invited to the Pro Basketball Combine, an opportunity for the collegiate star to prove himself on a big stage ahead of the NBA Draft. But even with a solid showing in both the testing and scrimmage stages of the audition, Robinson is expected to go undrafted this month. Still, there remain plenty of avenues — starting with summer leagues and two-way contracts — for Robinson to head down.

For now, however, he’s happy for the chance to compete and prove himself one more time.

“It was fun, I’ve had a great time so far, I’m here to have fun as well as try to make a name for myself — as the rest of these guys are,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “I think I played well, I didn’t make a lot of shots, as many as I wanted to, but, at the end of the day, I think I did well.”

Robinson, who led the Mountaineers to 18 wins in 2017-18, has undergone the type of transformation front offices specifically scout for. After averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman, Robinson grew into his game, role and responsibilities. He would finish his collegiate career pulling down 22 points and 4.8 assists per game instead, a scoring tally that was good for 16th-best in all of Division-I. For somebody that often faced defenders more than a foot taller than him, shooting 44.6 percent from the field — and a workable 38.8 from three-point land — this year is a testament to Robinson’s willingness to adapt and survive.

“I had to find different ways to do different things, I’m not jumping over guys like 6-foot-9 — so I had to find a way to score around, over, or, you know what I’m sayin’,” Robinson said. “I had to do a lot of things to just improve my game inside, outside, ball handling, everything had to improve in order for me to be where I am today.”

Today, although accomplished, the odds are still stacked against Robinson. To date, only Earl Boykins and Muggsy Bogues have reached the NBA at 5-foot-5 or smaller. Bogues averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists over 14 NBA seasons, while Boykins himself enjoyed 13 — but those are two of the greatest exceptions, not the rule. Currently, the league’s shortest players are Kay Felder, who only played two games in 2017-18, and Isaiah Thomas, both standing at 5-foot-9. Of course, Thomas, a more recent success story, was the No. 60 overall pick in 2011 and has parlayed that opportunity into two All-Star appearances and a top-five MVP finish last season.

But when he was asked what exactly he’s looking to prove these days, Robinson’s answer was compelling.

“That size doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as you have heart and you’re willing to compete and give it your all every day — what’s height got to do with it?” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “All my life, I’ve been told I’m too small, I’m too short or that I’m not gonna be able to play with bigger guys. At some point, that phrase and all those have to go away, you just have to be a basketball player.

“And that’s what I try to prove — that I’m just a basketball player like the rest of these guys.”

Over his four seasons in Maryland, Robinson collected a handful of impressive individual outings — but perhaps none more so than the show he put on against Loyola back in early December. During a slim five-point victory, Robinson logged 39 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals on 4-for-7 from long-range. No matter your size, that’s an achievement worth acknowledging — and Robinson made a habit of putting in big performances like that all season. When Robinson scored above his season average (22), the Mountaineers were 11-4, a mark that accounted for 61 percent of the university’s wins last year.

Where Robinson went, so did Mount St. Mary’s.

Watching Robinson, even from afar, is a treat. There’s certainly something to be said for the league’s hulking, mammoth rim-rattlers, but Robinson’s craftiness and clever play can be just as enthralling. Utilizing pump-fakes, feints, floaters and his reckless abandon, Robinson frequently excelled at creating scoring chances out of very little. Any NBA franchise that gives Robinson an extended look this summer will find a hard-working, determined scorer — traits he credits to his uber-athletic family tree.

“My parents are pretty athletic,” Robinson said. “My mom played at Elon and went overseas and played in Germany. My dad was really athletic, he could do any type of dunk at like 5-foot-4. It’s in my genes as well, it’s also a competitive thing — I wanna be the best I can be. I wanna be just as good as these guys or be on that pedestal. For me to be able to come in here and play with them, it’s great for me.”

For now, nobody is quite sure what the future holds for Robinson, but he’ll likely get his shot to go headlong at looming seven-footers soon enough. His fearlessness has been a staple for Robinson since he arrived at Mount St. Mary’s in 2014 — get knocked down, get right back up. As he tells it now, Robinson knew he had to be unshakable to make the next level, slowly honing those killer instincts and shifty offensive moves. What we’re left with now, effectively, is a very talented 22-year-old scorer that spent last season as a legitimate Division-I force to be reckoned with.

But to him, Robinson’s unparalleled fearlessness is all just another day at the office.

“I think was I was nine, I went up and a kid knocked me over and I realized: It’s not going to kill me, so why not?”

And the rest is history.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Egor Koulechov: Three Schools, Five Years, One NBA Dream

At the Pro Basketball Combine, Egor Koulechov talked about his overseas journey, his extensive collegiate history and what it was like leaving home to chase a dream.

Ben Nadeau

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“Do you want the beginning, or do you want the condensed version from when I got to the states?”

When Egor Koulechov was asked to describe his worldwide basketball journey at May’s Pro Basketball Combine, he laughed before responding. After all, it’s a story he’s told a hundred times before — so what’s one more? In pursuit of reaching the summit of his NBA dream, Koulechov grew up grinding overseas before attending three stateside colleges in five years.

While he’s facing an uphill battle from here, Koulechov refuses to give up on it just yet.

As Koulechov, 23, recounts it now — albeit in an abridged, rapid-fire version — he lived in Volgograd, Russia until the age of six, then his family moved to a Neve Ur, a kibbutz in northern Israel. At 14, Koulechov relocated from home and played for two separate academy clubs, Maccabi Rishon LeZion and Wingate, as he progressively fell further and further in love with the game. Subsequently, Koulechov told his parents he wanted to play basketball in the United States, so he packed up and stayed with a host family alone for the following two years.

“I remember when I was sitting on that plane when I left my parents, that’s when it kind of hit me,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “I’m not going to see my parents every day anymore, I’m not going to be home, I’m going to have to take care of myself. . .

“It’s just been an incredible journey, to be honest, I’ve met so many people, but it’s such a big adjustment, I remember, at 16, I struggled with it for a little bit.”

From there, Koulechov enrolled at Arizona State, where he averaged just 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14 minutes per game as a freshman. Smartly, the Israeli-Russian transferred to Rice University, sat out a season in accordance with NCAA rules and then took a massive step forward. In his second season at Rice, Koulechov pulled down 18.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 47.4 percent from three-point range. All of sudden, he was back on the map.

“Then, last year at Rice, I had a decision to make, whether I wanted to go pro or would I want to do a grad year,” Koulechov said. “I was kind of in between and decided to give this thing one last go-around to stay in the States and give myself the best shot of making my dreams come true — that’s why I went to Florida for one year.”

This past spring, Koulechov wrapped up a graduate transfer season at the University of Florida, where the 6-foot-5 guard tallied 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds over 30.6 minutes per game. He started in all 34 games for the tournament-bound Gators, using his innate playmaking abilities and solid shooting marks to take advantage of smaller defenders. During Florida’s first-round victory over St. Bonaventure, Koulechov took in a team-high 20 points along with six rebounds — all season long, he was the team’s most consistent contributor. Although it wasn’t enough to get Koulechov to the NBA Draft Combine, he was more than happy to compete in the Pro Basketball Combine instead.

“It was awesome, honestly, I haven’t done workouts like that in front of teams, I haven’t had any NBA workouts, I have some lined up later — but this was good, this was a good experience,” Koulechov said. “It’s honestly a little nerve-wracking at first, when you kind of have all those people watching you there shoot, kind of a little tense, but once you start getting used to it and getting in the flow, it’s kind of easier.”

More likely than not, Koulechov will go undrafted later this month — but with private workouts, multiple summer leagues and two-way contracts ahead of him, he’ll get plenty of chances to prove he belongs. Even as he works from behind the eight ball, the modern league thrives on three-point shooting, so it doesn’t seem unreasonable that Koulechov, a career 39.5 percent marksman in college, could certainly catch on with the right franchise.

But his capable combine performance helped him exhibit far more than just his long-range abilities.

“Toughness, shooting, rebounding, defense, all those things — the 3-and-D thing that’s been going around a lot,” Koulechov said. “That’s kind of what I try to portray and show those guys, but it’s just how I play. It’s not like I try really hard, it’s kind of coming natural.”

Of course, it hasn’t been an easy road for the overseas dreamer — but it’s only served to make him even stronger. Unlike most NBA prospects, Koulechov was never a highly sought-after high school prospect, nor was he chased by five or six elite collegiate programs either. And yet, he still sacrificed everything to come stateside and compete for an opportunity. Now, he stands closer than ever to the big leagues, but he almost didn’t make it here.

During that challenging season at Arizona State in 2013-14, Koulechov couldn’t stop the doubts from sneaking in.

“[I felt like giving up] many times, many times,” Koulechov told Basketball Insiders. “But after my freshman year, I was kind of like: ‘Wow, why do I need this?’ Why when I could just go back home, play pro and make decent money? But I like to think of myself as mentally tough, and I know a lot of Israeli players who came through college and came for one year and then they left — everybody leaves after one year.

“I kind of wanted to be tougher than that. I didn’t want to be just another guy that tried it and went back to the same old thing, so that’s what I really wanted to get out of it.”

He’s not wrong either, and the current list of Israeli-born NBA players is a short one. Outside of the Indiana Pacers’ T.J. Leaf — born in Tel Aviv — and Omri Casspi, who was cut by the Golden State Warriors in early April, Israeli representation remains low. Koulechov’s passion for his hometown has motivated him through years of ups and downs — but following that stellar second season at Rice, he knew he had to keep reaching for his decade-long goal.

“If I did go back to Israel, I’d have to do military service, so this right now is me trying to make it to the NBA so I can represent Israel and give them another player,” Koulechov said. “That’s my dream, that’s always been my dream since I started playing basketball at 13. So that’s why I stayed here for another year.

“I could’ve been playing pro after one year of college or even before that — but this has always been my dream so I’m just trying to give it my best shot.”

After recapping his lifelong journey up until this point — a path that took him to three countries and three colleges before the age of 22 — Koulechov paused, smiled and said: “That’s the condensed version.”

And if Egor Koulechov has his way, his story is far from over.

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