It's A Wonderful Life His team has never been ranked higher, his NBA future has never looked brighter and his fiancee is an NBA dancer who's looking pretty bright herself. For Gonzaga's Dan Dickau...

Feb. 25, 2002
Feb. 25, 2002

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Feb. 25, 2002

It's A Wonderful Life His team has never been ranked higher, his NBA future has never looked brighter and his fiancee is an NBA dancer who's looking pretty bright herself. For Gonzaga's Dan Dickau...

The song is the clincher. It's not enough that point guard Dan
Dickau has shepherded No. 7 Gonzaga, a genuine Final Four
contender, to its loftiest ranking in school history, or that
he's engaged to a blindingly gorgeous Portland Trail Blazers
dancer, or that he's almost sure to be the first Bulldog since
John Stockton to make it in the NBA. No, last week he finally
became a certifiable Northwest cultural phenomenon--joining
Gore-Tex, Copper River salmon and grunge (R.I.P.)--with the
release of a tribute CD single, sung to the tune of the
Commodores' 1977 hit, Brick House:

This is an article from the Feb. 25, 2002 issue Original Layout

He's Dan Dick ... OWWW

He's mighty mighty, just lettin' it all hang out.

He's Dan Dick ... OWWW

He's lightnin' fast, and that's a fact, ain't holdin' nothin'

Truth be told, Brick House is about the last phrase you'd use to
describe Dickau, a 6-foot, 189-pound, baby-faced sharpshooter.
At week's end Dickau was shooting a remarkable 48.0% from
three-point range and averaging 20.9 points and 5.0 assists,
while proving that college senior and NBA prospect can exist in
the same sentence. "The way he's shooting it, and with the
decisions he's making, Dan is playing as well as anyone in the
country," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said last Saturday after
Dickau's 26 points led the Bulldogs to a 91-78 victory over
archrival Pepperdine, raising their record to an impressive 24-3.

If Gonzaga finally shed the Cinderella tag last year by going to
its third straight Sweet 16--Duke and Michigan State are the
only other schools to have done that over the same span--then
this year's deeper, beefier Bulldogs could go even further.
Unlike Gonzaga's last three bracket-busters, which were never
seeded higher than 10th, this year's edition should be seeded
much higher, and suddenly the denizens of Jack and Dan's, the
Spokane tavern run by Stockton's father, Jack, are asking the
unthinkable: Can this team win it all? "I think we can," says
Dickau. "To win a national championship you need a little luck,
but if we continue improving, anything's possible with this team."

With his preternatural court vision and cojones and his
hair-trigger release, Dickau is poised to cross a personal
threshold as well. For all of Gonzaga's tournament success, none
of its recent stars--Casey Calvary, Richie Frahm and Matt
Santangelo--have followed Stockton's path to the NBA. According
to one Western Conference scout, Dickau could go as high as the
middle of the first round. "He's an NBA player," the scout says.
"He has so much focus, he's a proven winner and he makes shots.
He's as valuable to Gonzaga as Jason Williams is to Duke. If he
gets the right fit, he'll do pretty damn well."

Former Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote, a Gonzaga
season-ticket holder, says Dickau reminds him of former Spartans
guard Scott Skiles, who played for 10 years in the NBA. Adds
Few, "If you want to win games at the next level, you'd better
take Dan. If you're interested in technicals and tattoos, then
don't take Dan. That's not what he's about."

Dickau's fascination with Stockton runs from basketball cards
(as a kid, he collected more than 300 cardboard Stocktons) to
uniform numbers (he wore Stockton's number 12 in high school and
for two seasons at Washington before transferring to Gonzaga,
where he flipped the numerals to 21) to a work ethic that
emulates Stockton's fanatical dedication. When Stockton made his
annual pilgrimage to Gonzaga last summer, Dickau cut short his
month-long ban from the gym (handed down by Few after Dickau's
trip to China for the World University Games) to train with one
of his idols. "In the mornings I'd work with him on shooting,
and in the afternoons he'd play pickup games with us," Dickau
says. "He's one of the top 50 players in NBA history, but his
work ethic is still incredible--and when he gets in a game, he
wants to win."

That said, Dickau has more in common with another West Coast
Conference product, Dallas Mavericks guard and Santa Clara alum
Steve Nash. Both are shoot-first point guards and have
bird's-nest hairstyles, to say nothing of cult followings (high
school girls tend to squeal in their presence) and, yes,
eye-catching female companions. For Nash, the latter have
included former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell and actress Elizabeth
Hurley. For Dickau it's fiancee Heather Nevenner, his high
school sweetheart from Vancouver, Wash., who's a third-year
member of the Blazers' dance team.

Although Dickau's teammates and coaches give him endless grief
("Hey, Dan, Shawn Kemp called," Few will crack. "He had some
news for you"), it's fair to say you won't be seeing this couple
in the tabloids. Seven years after they began dating at
Vancouver's Prairie High, Dan led Heather into a candlelit room
over Christmas break and had her put together a puzzle of a
photograph. When she was done, Dickau pulled out the last
piece--in which he was holding an engagement ring--and bowed on
one knee to pop the question. "I was in shock," says Nevenner, a
former high school hoopster herself who still remembers Dan's
first pickup line: "Aren't you number 12 too?" (Assist, Stockton.)

The proposal had a dual purpose, Dickau points out. "In high
school she won a state championship and I didn't, so I had to
buy her an engagement ring to keep from looking at her state
ring," he says, laughing. Their wedding, a real-life sequel to
Love and Basketball, is set for Aug. 3.

He knows he's got everything

That an All-American needs.

How could he lose with coach Mark Few?

He can dish, he can score, you can see he's got a winnin' hand.

He's Dan Dick ... OWWW....

In an age when high school juniors consider turning pro, Dickau
is an anachronism, a guy who credits his success to patience,
fortitude and experience. Take the eighth grade. Dickau
did--twice. Despite a healthy academic record, Dickau was young
for his grade and a spindly 5'5" at the time, so he and his
parents, Randy and Judy, decided to pull him out of public
school and enroll him for a year in the Cornerstone Christian
School, run by a nondenominational Christian church in
Vancouver. "I saw it as another year to play basketball," Dickau
says. "Plus, I had always called myself a Christian, but I
didn't know what that meant. That was the year I made a full
decision on how to live my life."

In other words, it was a redshirt year, not unlike the one
Dickau was forced to take upon transferring to Gonzaga, a Jesuit
school, three years ago. He says he never felt comfortable
during his two years at Washington, a signing decision that he
says was based on his false assumption that bigger (Pac-10)
always meant better. "The development just wasn't there," says
Randy, who coached Dan through the eighth grade and who still
travels with Judy from Vancouver for almost all of Dan's games.
"All his friends were getting better, and Dan was saying, 'Why
not me?'"

"Something my dad said stuck in my mind," says Dan, who was
averaging only 4.6 points a game when he broke his left heel
midway through his sophomore season. "He said, 'I don't care if
you transfer, but if you stay, have a nice career.' I thought
maybe he'd just watch my games on TV [if I didn't transfer]. I
wanted to be at a place where everybody put the team first and
cared about each other. The day I decided to transfer, I felt
like I had a new lease on my career."

Gonzaga provided everything Washington didn't: a gym he could
use almost around-the-clock, smaller classes and a genial,
slower-paced atmosphere that reminded him of his tight-knit high
school. The basketball was good, too. So he waited. He improved.
When he finally took the court again last year after a season
and a half on the sideline, he thrived, averaging 18.9 points a
game. "Dan has found freedom within the structure," says center
Zach Gourde. "At Washington he had freedom but no structure. It
was just a bunch of athletes running and jumping. Dan isn't the
most gifted individual athletically, but he overcomes that by
working harder and thinking better than guys he plays against."

Guess what? Patience does pay off. Dickau may be an old man at
23, but as he says, "I've always been that kid in the third grade
who said he wanted to be an NBA player when he grows up, and then
all the kids laugh. God gave me an opportunity by allowing me to
transfer here, and things couldn't have turned out any better."

Dickau's faith is no act. For the past two seasons he has
organized a Monday-night Bible study group at the home of Shann
Ferch, a Gonzaga professor who played at Pepperdine in the late
'80s. The meetings are a mix of male bonding, gospel songs and
earnest discussion about the role of religion in society. "We'll
sit and talk about life, and try to refocus our priorities for
the week," Dickau says. For last week's meeting each member
wrote an original psalm. "Dan's solid in what he believes," says
Ferch, who has put aside his Pepperdine loyalties and become a
Gonzaga fan, "but he does a good job of living it without
invading other people's lives."

Nor is Dickau above hosting a regular game of penny-ante poker
among friends on the new baize card table Nevenner gave him for
Christmas. "I used to play with those guys," says sophomore
forward Cory Violette, Dickau's road roommate, "until I figured
out Dan deals from the bottom of the deck." Dickau takes the
Fifth on that charge, but there's no denying that he likes to
win. One of Nevenner's favorite stories is about the time two
years ago when she and Dan played Monopoly until three in the
morning at her parents' house. She says Dickau's reaction when
he landed on her Park Place property--with a hotel--and went
bankrupt was priceless. "He put his head in his hands," she
says, "and he had little tears in his eyes. He was so upset, I
couldn't stop laughing."

If Dickau was intense that night, try to imagine the scene last
Saturday in his final home game at the Kennel in Spokane. In a
kaleidoscope of emotions (and bodily fluids), Dickau cried
during his senior farewell, bled from a second-half blow to his
mouth and still rang up 26 points, seven assists and five
rebounds to help move the Bulldogs into a first-place tie with
Pepperdine in the West Coast Conference. In the locker room
afterward his face was literally covered in blood, sweat and
tears. For a moment, it was impossible not to think back to the
passage Dickau had highlighted in his dog-eared Bible two years
ago, the one he can show you within seconds of being asked to
name his favorite verse. "The end of a thing is better than its
beginning," reads Ecclesiastes 7:8. "And the patient in spirit
is better than the proud in spirit."

The guy who wrote that must have known a thing or two about
college basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK One-upmanship Dickau says he gave Nevenner an engagement ring so she'd stop showing him up with her high school title ring.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Bombs away Dickau lit up the Kennel with 26 points, 12 of them on three-point shots, in a win over archrival Pepperdine.B/W PHOTO: GONZAGA UNIVERSITY Role models Dickau is often compared with another Gonzaga star, Stockton (12), but his game is more like Nash's was at Santa Clara.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [See caption above]

West Coast Highway

A comparison of Dan Dickau's senior-year stats (through Sunday)
with those of two former West Coast Conference guards who went
on to become NBA All-Stars shows that he deserves at least a
long look at the next level.

John Stockton 1983-84 20.9 7.2 2.4 57.7 N/A* 69.2
Steve Nash 1995-96 17.0 6.0 3.6 43.1 34.4 89.4
Dan Dickau 2001-02 20.9 5.0 3.1 45.5 48.0 88.6

*Three-point shot not introduced until 1986-87

"He's an NBA player," says one pro scout. "He's focused, he's a
winner and he makes shots. With the right fit, he'll do damn