For more than half his life, Steve Dickerson’s job has been to figure out what makes basketball players tick.
However, heading into the home stretch of his final season as the men’s coach at Pacific Lutheran University, Dickerson must feel like an over-the-hill locksmith when it comes to trying to unlock the vast potential of one of his standout players.
Jared Christy isn’t your ordinary undersized post player in the Northwest Conference. He is blessed with springy legs and boundless energy — two traits that make him the conference’s top rebounder.
As conference play resumes Friday, the 6-foot-6 junior averages 11.3 rebounds per game, which would be the highest since 2010 when Willamette’s Cameron Mitchell was one of the top big men in the country in NCAA Division III (12.5 rebounds per game).
“He’s a man-child guy,” Dickerson said about Christy.
Yet, that is where the aggressiveness in Christy’s game ends. Once the ball is secured, he becomes a different player.
“Rebounding is a tough, dirty job,” Dickerson said. “He does it like crazy. ... But he’s just not motivated to be a scorer when he could really be a good one.”
The Lutes are thankful that Christy, the team’s third-leading scorer, rediscovered his motivation for basketball.
Once the final buzzer sounded at Ferris High School in 2014, Christy figured he was done with the sport. He wanted to go to Washington State University with some of his close pals and just be a regular student.
For the most part, Christy did. He joined a fraternity — Sigma Alpha Epsilon. And he was doing so well in his studies, he found time to lace it up for intramural basketball at Bohler Gymnasium.
Something funny happened. Christy began missing the sport he had played all of his life.
“ ‘Plan A’ was just to play rat ball,” Christy said. “During it, I realized I wanted to play organized basketball again. I missed it.”
At the end of the school year, Christy contacted his old coach in high school, Don Van Lierop. Christy wanted to know which universities had showed recruiting interest in him before he went off to WSU.
“It was July, and I remember he sent out a few feelers to those programs. Most of them said it was too late, and that their rosters were already full,” Christy said.
One of them, however, said they would give Christy a spot: PLU.
Before Christy met with Dickerson for the first time, the longtime coach was alerted to the teenager’s Facebook account.
One of the photos was of Christy with a plastic cup in his hand along the Snake River.
“I told him that kind of thing was fine at WSU,” said Dickerson, who once played baseball for legendary coach Bobo Brayton and the Cougars. “But around here, that would not go over well.”
Christy understood completely.
“It was a big change because everything at WSU is built around people wanting to party,” Christy said. “Coming here, me and my friends on the team, everything was about basketball.”
It was one thing adjusting to life at a new school. It was another thing trying to learn a new position.
Up until his senior year at Ferris, Christy was a guard at 6-1. But after he grew five inches, he played more in the frontcourt.
That is where Dickerson saw him fitting in with the Lutes — a full-time interior player.
“I had never posted anybody up,” Christy said. “So Jeff Brown, the former Gonzaga player, is good friends with my dad, and he helped me out.”
Brown, the West Coast Conference player of the year in 1994 for the Zags, showed Christy a few things about footwork, which have helped immensely in his transition to the post at PLU.
“I used to just bulldoze people and get a bunch of charges,” Christy said. “Now I don’t.”
Now if only Dickerson can get Christy to take a few more shots. Although he’s averaging more than 12 points per game, Christy is fourth on the team in shots taken.
“He’s a great kid, but he’s sort of an enigma that way,” Dickerson said. “I’ve met very few kids who don’t want to try and score, but he will only if he has to.”
Pacific Lutheran Lutes
Coach: Steve Dickerson, 11th year (104-140 record).
Last season: 17-10, 9-7 in NWC (third place). Lost in conference tournament championship game to Whitworth.
Preseason coaches’ pick: Third.
Projected starting lineup: PG Erik Swartout, 6-1, 190, sr.; SG Brandon Lester, 5-11, 180, sr.; SF Kyle Sawtell, 6-2, 195, sr.; PF Dylan Foreman, 6-2, 195, jr.; C Jared Christy, 6-6, 210, jr.
Top reserves: PG Tyson Birrer, 6-2, 180, so.; C Garth West, 6-10, 250, sr.; F Andrew Ardissone, 6-2, 180, sr.
Key player: Just because of how important he is needed as an inside presence, and in particular, a rebounder, Christy has to stay healthy for the Lutes to contend for a playoff spot.
Outlook: This is a team that has a lot of play for. For starters, Dickerson announced last fall that he was retiring at the end of the season. With six of their top seven players returning, there is no reason the Lutes should not be in the hunt for a NWC postseason spot. But PLU has not played well so far this season. One, Lester has been in the first extended shooting slump of his career. His creative playmaking and scoring are crucial for a points-starved squad. And secondly, at 76.3 points per game, opponents are scoring nearly 10 more points a game than last season (67.8). But the Lutes have a veteran group that has plenty of playing time together, and very well could turn it around now that league play has arrived.
NWC schedule (all games 8 p.m., unless noted): Friday vs. George Fox (Ore.); Saturday vs. Willamette (Ore.), 6 p.m.; Jan. 13 at Whitman; Jan. 14 at Whitworth, 6 p.m.; Jan. 17 at Puget Sound; Jan. 21 at Linfield (Ore.), 6 p.m.; Jan. 27 vs. Pacific (Ore.); Jan. 28 vs. Lewis & Clark, 6 p.m.; Feb. 3 at Willamette; Feb. 4 at George Fox, 6 p.m.; Feb. 10 vs. Whitworth; Feb. 11 vs. Whitman, 6 p.m.; Feb. 14 vs. Puget Sound; Feb. 17 vs. Linfield.
Puget Sound Loggers
Coach: Justin Lunt, 11th year (150-109 record).
Last season: 13-13, 8-8 in NWC (fourth place). Lost in conference tournament semifinals to Whitworth.
Preseason coaches’ pick: Fourth.
Starting lineup: PG Kohl Meyer, 6-3, 185, sr.; SG Carlos Mancasola, 6-2, 170, sr.; SF Jimmy Wohrer, 6-3, 185, so.; PF Zach Miller, 6-3, 195, sr ; C Jeremiah Hobbs, 6-5, 215, jr.
Top reserves: SF/PF Andre Lewis, 6-3, 220, sr.; C Kyle King, 6-4, 200, sr.; SG Easton Driessen, 5-11, 195, jr.
Key player: Now a three-year starter, Meyer is the straw that stirs the drink for the Loggers’ offense. When he is aggressive, UPS stays in attacking mode. A nightly triple-double threat.
Outlook: All early indicators point to the Loggers staying in the thick of contention right to the end of February. They have one of the best backcourt tandems in Meyer and Mancasola, the fiery heartbeat of this team. Their defense has arguably been the best in the conference through two months, holding opponents to a 38.6-percent shooting clip. But, as is the case with undersized teams that rely so much on the 3-point shot, there will be nights when the offense struggles, no matter who is defending it. Lunt will continue to play a five-out motion offense similar to that of the Boston Celtics, whom the coach visited in September for tips (he knows local product Isaiah Thomas). Depth did take a hit when Timmy Saunders (foot) was lost indefinitely a couple of weeks ago.
NWC schedule (all games 8 p.m. unless noted): Friday vs. Willamette (Ore.); Saturday vs. Lewis & Clark (Ore.), 6 p.m.; Jan. 13 at Whitworth; Jan. 14 at Whitman, 6 p.m.; Jan. 17 vs. Pacific Lutheran; Jan. 20 vs. Pacific (Ore.); Jan. 27 at George Fox (Ore.); Jan. 28 at Linfield (Ore.), 6 p.m.; Feb. 3 at Lewis & Clark; Feb. 4 at Willamette, 6 p.m.; Feb. 10 vs. Whitman; Feb. 11 vs. Whitworth, 6 p.m.; Feb. 14 at Pacific Lutheran; Feb. 18 at Pacific, 6 p.m.