Dave Dickerson, following the path of many Division I coaches, was a visitor to Frank Martin’s gym at Miami Senior High School in the late 1990s. Dickerson was an assistant at Maryland and Martin was leading one of the nation’s best prep programs.
The Florida state champion Stingarees featured Steve Blake, a highly sought-after point guard. The Terrapins wanted Blake, so Dickerson came south to sit in on Martin’s practices.
“I don’t think Frank’s changed much,” Dickerson told The State last month. “I think it was evident that he had, really, a love affair with the game of basketball. And I think that he was very engaging with his players and his players were very engaging with him.
“There was a lot of trust on the court. And a lot of built-in really good relationships because of the way they played and the way they practiced.”
Blake eventually signed with Maryland on his way to an NCAA title and 13-year NBA career. Dickerson eventually became a college head coach, first with Tulane (2005-10) and, since March 30, USC Upstate. Martin, on the college sidelines since 2000, is entering his seventh season in charge of South Carolina.
When the Gamecocks and Spartans meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Colonial Life Arena, it’ll be an extension of a two-decades-old relationship.
Dickerson and Martin didn’t just remain in touch following the Blake recruitment, they two made a deal with each other.
“I always told him that when I first got my head coaching job,” Dickerson said, “he would be one of the first people that I would call. And vice-versa. He always told me that if he had an opening on his staff, then he could consider me.”
When Dickerson took over Tulane, Martin was working for Andy Kennedy at Cincinnati. The Bearcats, previously under Bob Huggins, were coming off 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
“He had a better job there then I could offer him,” Dickerson said.
In April 2016, due to Lamont Evans’ departure for Oklahoma State, a spot opened on Martin’s USC staff. Martin interviewed Dickerson, then with Thad Matta at Ohio State, for the position.
“I was honored to be considered on his staff at the time,” Dickerson said, “but I had a great job at Ohio State. So we went through the interview process. But my family and I decided to stay at Ohio State.”
Martin, instead, hired Bruce Shingler.
Dickerson, an Olar native, still found a way back to his home state. On Tuesday, he makes his USC Upstate debut with a roster that includes freshman forward Brandon Martin, Frank’s son.
The Spartans went 7-25 last year.
“It’s been trying on some ends because everyone is starting from ground zero when it comes to learning who I am and learning our systems and my expectations of them on and off the court,” Dickerson said. “Those have been some steep learning curves, but as far as the job and the university that I work for and the community in which I live in, it’s been a wonderful experience to this point.
“There hasn’t been a day where I’ve second-guessed myself being the head coach here at USC Upstate.”