When she was just a sophomore in high school and playing for her 16-and-under AAU basketball team, Jessica Dickson managed to show enough athleticism to spark major interest from the USF women’s coaching staff.
Even if Dickson wasn’t the best basketball player on the court when she caught the eye of USF associate head coach Harry Elifson, she impressed him enough with her raw talent to provoke USF coach Jose Fernandez’s right-hand man to tab the youngster as the program’s top recruit.
And everything seemed to work out for USF from that point.
“We knew right away after talking to her high school coach that she was staying close to home,” Elifson said. “That just made our life that much easier. What a great thing that was without a doubt.”
Dickson wasn’t quite yet the dominating force she turned out to be at Ocala Vanguard High School, where she scored a school-record 2,634 points. But Elifson saw the player inside of Dickson who was waiting to emerge.
“She couldn’t shoot it outside of 10-12 feet, but she was so athletic,” Elifson said. “I think Coach Fernandez, (assistant) coach (Tara) Jones and myself knew the potential she had.”
Now, during her freshman season with the Bulls, Dickson has elevated her game much more. And she hasn’t missed a beat starting from her senior year in high school, when she averaged 25.6 points per game, to midway through her first season at USF.
“We thought (the transition to college ball) would be good, but not quite this good,” Elifson said. “It’s been a surprise, but not that much — more of a pleasant surprise.”
Dickson began her college career with a career-high 27 points against Army, and she hasn’t slowed down since. She leads the team in scoring, averaging 16.1 ppg, and she has posted five 20-point plus games, while scoring below double figures only three times in 19 games this season.
“I think I’m doing OK,” Dickson said.
Not bad for a player who had to make a position change this season.
“As a junior (in high school) she basically played the post,” Elifson said. “But she knew she had to go out on the perimeter and she really worked on her perimeter game.”
And though it seems she’s made a smooth transition thus far, Dickson understands she’s still in a transition of sorts, working toward becoming a dominant player on the wing.
“I have a lot to learn and a long ways to go,” Dickson said. “I’m just learning each and every day — getting used to handling the ball and playing out on the wing and just getting comfortable shooting.”
And shooting, and shooting. It’s easy to see Dickson’s forte on the court. No one scores as many points as she did in high school without shooting the ball, and she’s not shy about putting the ball in the air numerous times each game.But Dickson doesn’t think she shoots the ball too much.
“Not really, I just let it come to me,” Dickson said. “If I see an open shot, I’ll take it.”
Dickson’s ability to score may end up putting her in an awkward position this season. The Bulls struggled all last season because the team didn’t have somebody who could step up and take control of the game, especially on offense, down the stretch. With the emergence of Dickson this season, the Bulls now have a go-to player.
But Dickson doesn’t think it brings any added pressure, even if her coaches and teammates have begun to expect her offensive consistency each game.
“There’s not too much pressure,” Dickson said. “I think sometimes I honestly look for my teammates instead of looking at myself to take charge, and I think I should do that more often.”
Elifson echoed Dickson’s statements about getting her teammates involved. He doesn’t want this team to become a one-woman show, especially with fellow freshmen Rachael Sheats and Nalini Miller playing with consistency.
But Elifson also knows Dickson possesses the ability to take over a game, and when the Bulls really need her to do so, he doesn’t want her to hesitate.
“I truly believe she’s a team player, but if the other people aren’t scoring, she’s going to rely on scoring because that’s what’s going to help the team win,” Elifson said.
And winning is all that seems important to Dickson. She’s got aspirations to lead the Bulls into the postseason tournament, maybe not this season, but certainly in the years to come. She also wants to exit USF the same way she exited high school — as one of the most dominating players in the program’s history.
Elifson believes Dickson can achieve her goals, and he doesn’t think it’s too hard to see.
“I think after watching her play, I think it’s pretty easy to know that if she keeps working, keeps doing what she’s doing, she can be one of the best to come out of (USF),” Elifson said.