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It's Wonderful Life
Grant Wahl
February 25, 2002
His team has never been ranked higher, his NBA future has never looked brighter and his fianc�e is an NBA dancer who's looking pretty bright herself. For Gonzaga's Dan Dickau...
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February 25, 2002

It's Wonderful Life

His team has never been ranked higher, his NBA future has never looked brighter and his fianc�e is an NBA dancer who's looking pretty bright herself. For Gonzaga's Dan Dickau...

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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 fianc�e 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."

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