New coach tries to keep it in perspective

Originally Published: September 1, 2005
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Tulane men's basketball team will play this season.

That's what first-year coach Dave Dickerson is telling his players and staff, one by one, on the phone from his own refuge point at his sister's house in Charleston, S.C.

When they will leave their respective homes from Maine to California, when they will congregate again, where they will play and even whether they will take classes this semester is still unknown. Dickerson already has postponed on-campus recruiting visits he had set up for the weekend of Sept. 9-11.

"I told my staff in a conference call [Thursday morning] that we're faced with the reality that we'll lose out on all of the kids we're recruiting," Dickerson told ESPN.com by phone. "We're not in a position where we can sign anyone since they can't come to Tulane for a campus visit. Part of the appeal of Tulane was our campus and the city of New Orleans. We're not giving our recruits a time line, but we're hoping they'll be patient and not make a decision on Tulane yet."

Classes at Tulane were supposed to start Wednesday. But the campus is dealing with flooding and a lack of electricity, let alone no staff as an evacuation is being ordered of the city of New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Tulane president Scott Cowan said on the school Web site that he was hoping to have a start date for the fall semester in the coming days. But that is likely to be contingent upon the orders from the mayor and the governor of Louisiana as to when New Orleans would be open again for its residents, let alone students.

The University of New Orleans is in a similar situation but efforts to reach the Privateers haven't been successful.

Tulane's football team is in Dallas. The women's soccer team is in Birmingham, Ala. Students could be at various universities in Texas and the South.

Meanwhile, Dickerson's players and staff remain at their homes, waiting on word as to what will happen next.

"There's a whole city in total destruction," said 38-year old Dickerson, who had been Gary Williams' top assistant before replacing Shawn Finney in the spring. "That's the thing we have to be concerned about now. We're displaced, but we're having to really grab hold of what's important now, and what's important now is not me being a head basketball coach for the first time or my players worrying about the season."

Dickerson has no idea whether he still has a house. He can't say whether his possessions are safe from the storm. Based on the reports out of the city, looting could be an issue, as well.

"I don't know if it's still there, or halfway there or hit with water," said Dickerson, who added that he bought a house in the West Bank area, which he said he understands wasn't hit as hard.

"I'm not really concentrating on my small piece [as a coach]," Dickerson said. "I have a wife who is struggling with [possibly] losing our house and everything in it. We just relocated to New Orleans, and that's what I have to deal with. There are people who have lost everything. The humanistic side is the most important thing right now."

Everyone in New Orleans has a story this week.

Everyone must.

Some are more chilling and tragic than others.

Dickerson's doesn't fall into that category. He and his family were lucky. They got out.

Dickerson said he flew to former Terp Steve Blake's wedding Saturday in Boston. He said he left New Orleans at 6 a.m. When he arrived at 1 p.m., the forecast turned toward New Orleans.

"I got my staff together on a conference call and told them to get all the players out of New Orleans," Dickerson said. "I told our two freshmen [Ryan Williams from Arkansas and Daniel Puckett from Tennessee], who were checking into the dorms with their families, to take them back home.

"I told the players and the coaches to get out and leave right away. My wife packed up our stuff as best she could and drove my son [4 years old] to Pensacola."

Why Pensacola, Fla.?

"She watched the weather and saw that would be out of the track of the storm," Dickerson said. "So she just got a room there."

He flew to Pensacola on Sunday, then on Tuesday, a day after the storm hit the Gulf Coast, he drove with his family to his sister's house in Charleston.

"I just had the suit from the wedding and the clothes I wore on the plane," Dickerson said. "We still thought we would be in Pensacola and then head back [to New Orleans], but then the worst happened [the deadly flooding Tuesday]."

Dickerson said one of his players, Kory Castine, is from the New Orleans area. His family went to be with relatives in Lake Charles, La. Another local player, David Gomez of Baton Rouge, was able to get home.

Dickerson staff is spread out from Atlanta (Benjy Taylor) to Charlotte (Steve Prohm) to Maine (Andrew Novick) to be with their extended families.

Conference USA officials are working with the NCAA on what to do with Tulane -- and possibly Southern Miss if there are school issues there, as well. The damage in Hattiesburg wasn't as severe as in New Orleans, so there is an expectation that Southern Miss could be up and running a lot sooner.

Dickerson said there is a possibility his players could decide to transfer. But he said no decisions have been made on the semester, let alone where they would play, so it's premature to predict whether the players would want out yet.

"We're still dealing with the humanistic side, and no one thought it would be this bad; this is the worst natural disaster in the United States," Dickerson said. "I've told the players to step back a bit and get away from basketball and think about how fortunate they are to be alive. I told them to try and imagine the people of Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and what they're going through right now.

"We are going to have a season, we are going to be together, but they have to be patient. They should try to stay in shape and stay emotionally and physically tough, and hopefully we can draw on some of those things and become a better team this year."

But from where and what school if not at Tulane?

SMU could be a possibility. The Mustangs, who are a fellow C-USA member for the first time, reached out to Tulane's football team. Dickerson said that if Tulane is forced to practice and play somewhere else, it likely would have to be close to school -- in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi or Alabama.

Dickerson's wife reminded him that he had faced chaos early in his college playing career because he was at Maryland in 1986, the year Len Bias died.

"She said, 'You'll find a way to get through this and make something positive out of it,'" Dickerson said.

On Wednesday, Dickerson tried to spin his emotions forward by going to the College of Charleston to watch individual workouts under coach Tom Herrion. But after a while, Dickerson couldn't take it anymore.

"I couldn't watch after a while because I knew that I couldn't do that with my team because of what is happening in the city of New Orleans," Dickerson said. "We're new as Orleanians and we're going through a trying time now. Basketball isn't really important now. Sports aren't as important right now."

But at some point, that will become the focus. When that will occur -- and where they will be living, practicing and playing -- is anyone's guess.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com