EMMITSBURG -- Leon Dickerson of Holy Cross is putting the lie to the time-honored bromide that nice guys finish last.
It's hard to find anyone with an unkind word about the former Cardinal Gibbons High star. Yet Dickerson does his share of banging under the boards as a starter for the Crusaders.
"He's the nicest guy on our team," said Holy Cross center Jim Nairus, who scored 29 points as the Crusaders raised their record to 4-3 with a 90-80 victory over Mount St. Mary's (1-7) before a Knott Arena gathering of 2,150 last night. "He gets along with everybody. He has so much personality."
But is Dickerson too nice? Can a man who would rather help a fallen opponent off the floor than jab an elbow into his ribs find success in college basketball?
Dickerson's numbers suggest he can. The 6-foot-5 junior swingman is Holy Cross' No. 3 scorer with a 9.8-point average and leading rebounder with five-plus a game.
"He can change on the floor," Nairus said. "He rebounds and gets hoops inside."
Mount coach Jim Phelan, after glancing at the box score, said, "Ten points, all on layups and second shots. That's what he does for you."
There was at least one man in Knott Arena, however, who would like Dickerson to become a shade nastier on the court.
"I've been telling Leon all along he's our best player or close to it," said Holy Cross coach George Blaney. "He doesn't believe it. He's too nice, too unselfish. He's got to continue to get tougher and nastier and more selfish. Then his confidence will catch up to his ability."
On hand last night for a good look at Dickerson were his parents, Leon and Helen, his twin brother and former Gibbons teammate Cleon, who attends Coppin State but isn't playing basketball, and sister Adrienne. They like Leon just the way he is, thank you.
"He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played," his father said. "When a player is down, my son is the first one to help him up. It's not in him to swing his elbows and be nasty."
Helen Dickerson will buy that. "He has compassion for the other players," she said.
At Cardinal Gibbons, playing for Ray Mullis, Dickerson became the school's No. 2 all-time scorer with 1,937 points, trailing only former NBA player Quintin Dailey. Gibbons' captain as a senior, Dickerson averaged 22.8 points and 10.3 rebounds and led the team to the Catholic League title.
Towson State and Mount St. Mary's were interested in him, as were Delaware and Duquesne. Mullis recommended Blaney and Holy Cross.
"I liked the fact the academics were very competitive," said Dickerson, who was a member of the National Honor Society at Gibbons and has a 2.4 grade-point average as a psychology major now. "They play my type of game -- up-tempo -- and I felt I'd have a spot to play."
As a freshman, Dickerson played in all 28 games, averaging 5.2 points. He was a season-long starter last year, averaging 8.7 points and 4.8 rebounds for the team that finished 24-6 and went to the National Invitation Tournament.
"Leon has been a terrific player for us for two years and I think his confidence is finally catching up to his ability," Blaney said.
The way this season started, Dickerson wasn't so sure. He had two points, then five, then zero.
"I was down a little," Dickerson said. "But I kept trying to keep the team up and my own spirits, too."
In the three games preceding last night's, Dickerson averaged 17.3 points. Blaney was pleased to note that he was having his nasty moments, too.
"At Gibbons, when teams were out to get us, it was either be tough or get killed," Dickerson said. "Here, you have to step it up more because there's more talent and bigger bodies."
For Dickerson and Holy Cross, there is now a break in the action. He will spend time at home before the Crusaders head for the Wyoming Cowboy Shootout Dec. 28-29.