Originally created 09/18/00

Dickel making most of opportunity



Mark Dickel was not the best player at The Dome in Sydney's Olympic Park Sunday.

A team loses to a basketball game 76-50 (to France!) and you can be pretty certain the next Michael Jordan isn't hiding on its roster.

In fact, Dickel didn't even start for New Zealand Sunday, which is kind of like being a bus driver and not being able to find work in an Olympic city. By the end of the game, he had just two free throws in 23 minutes and only three assists, which was also the same number of turnovers he committed. That's not good for a point guard.

But it's not bad for a dead guy.

Only four months ago, Dickel wasn't thinking about competing in the Olympics. He wasn't even breathing.

A four-year player at UNLV, Dickel hung around Las Vegas for a while after his senior season ended. He was playing a pick-up game in a local gym when he went up to block a shot, had his legs swiped out from under him and came crashing down on his head, the force of impact concentrated on the area just where his neck and skull meet.

He went into convulsions and had stopped breathing when helped arrived. A member of the gym who was a veterinarian revived Dickel within minutes and, remarkably, he was released from a local hospital that same night (with a nice, shiny coat?)

Almost as quickly, it seemed, he walked into the Olympics. He returned home two weeks later and tried out for the New Zealand team that comes to Sydney as, well, lambs.

"I didn't really have any idea that I'd be playing anywhere," said Dickel, who lived in New Zealand for 18 years before coming to the U.S. to play college ball. "I'm just happy to be here."

Until Sunday, at least.

The embrace-every-day phase seems to have passed already for Dickel, who left the court Sunday with a scowl on his face as big as the bump on his head must have been in May. But then, get smoked by France in anything other than a soufflé contest, and you're going to be a little charred.

"I know why (New Zealand played so poorly), but I can't say why," Dickel said after his team shot just 26 percent and was outscored 21-2 at one point to fall behind by as many as 33. "I don't really want to talk about that."

That's not a new perspective coming out, but nationalism talking.

As ugly as Sunday's loss was, he's not ready to bash his country's basketball as it compares to the game in the U.S. There are no dreams on that team, no wild ideas of stealing a medal in Sydney. Sunday's game showed why.

But it does give Dickel an opportunity to play in the Olympics, which he wouldn't have gotten in America.

"We just want to get better every game we play here," he says.

And he'll be in no hurry to chuck the New Zealand experiment after the Games. He'll probably even extend it.

Despite leading Division-I in assists as a senior with 9.1 per game, Dickel was not selected in the NBA draft in April. While he says he hasn't decided where he will live once he moves out of the Athletes' Village in Sydney, he has an offer from the Victoria Titans of New Zealand's NBL. He lived with Titans coach Brian Goorjian for six months in 1996 when he was training for a national junior team.

"I love Goorjian like a father and I'd really like to play for the Titans," said Dickel, who many expect to sign an NBL contract shortly after the Olympics.

But there also is still the lure of the NBA, a dream that exists for any player who reached the level Dickel has, first at UNLV and now halfway around the world.

"You've got to establish yourself and show what you can do," he said of drawing interest from an NBA team. "That's something everybody wants to do.

"I just want to play for as long as I can. I don't know what that entails."

He's hoping it doesn't entail taking any more lumps, either the way he did in May or the way his team did Sunday.