The Long and Winding Road of Kaniel Dickens
The Beatles once sang about the long and winding road.
But John, Paul, George and Ringo have nothing on the road traveled by Nets forward Kaniel Dickens.
Dickens’ basketball odyssey began even before being drafted by the Utah Jazz in the second round (50th overall) of the 2000 NBA Draft. His collegiate years were split between three different schools, finally finding a home at the University of Idaho for his junior and senior seasons.
Upon graduation, his agent presented him with an offer to play ball in Russia. The 21-years-old Kaniel thought it was the only viable option.
“Being young I thought I could go to camp (with Utah), risk being cut and get nothing,” said the Denver native. “Or I could play in Russia and get some much needed money in my pocket.”
After playing seven games with Ural, Dickens knew Russia was a long way from his dream of playing in the NBA and said het to a second season with the club.
He returned to the States for the 2001-02 season, landing with Fayetteville and Mobile of the National Basketball Development League (NBDL). In 27 games, Kaniel averaged 5.1 PPG and 2.4 RPG.
Surprisingly, Dickens did not receive any concrete offers from teams in the NBDL or the Continental Basketball Association (CBA), and especially not the NBA, the following season. For the first time in his career, Kaniel found himself in unfamiliar territory.
“I was sitting at home on Thanksgiving, watching NBA basketball on television,” said the 6-8 Dickens. “That was one of the worst situations and being in that position will make you play just about anywhere.”
Dickens played in China for the 2002-03 season. And as you might expect he encountered many barriers, not including the language.
“China was a struggle,” he said. “I ate the same food every day. Fried rice with french fries and apples.”
Being so far home and having to endure the same meal every day, Kaniel started thinking a career basketball may not be in the cards for him. When asked if he gave serious consideration at that time to quitting the game, he wryly said no as he shook his head in the affirmative.
And just when Dickens was about to call it a career, he received a call from the Portland Trailblazers on Dec. 19th, 2003. Kaniel played three games for the Blazers, scoring a career-high four points against, ironically, the New Jersey Nets.
His stay in Portland was short-lived as he was released a few weeks later.
“The hardest thing is going to the local grocery store back home and having everybody ask you why you’re there,” he said. “You have to explain that you got cut. They don’t realize (basketball) is no different than a 9 to 5 job, people lose their jobs every day.”
Dickens spent the rest of the 2003-04 season playing with the Dakota Wizards of the CBA and DKV Joventut in Spain. He played exceptionally well in Dakota, averaging 19.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg.
“A lot of people look down on the CBA, saying ‘well you did that in the CBA but you couldn’t do that in the NBA,’” he said. “Granted the players in the CBA are not as talented but every last one of them is hungry.
“None are content with where they are,” he said. “They’re all playing to get somewhere else, whether that’s overseas or the NBA.”
After another outstanding season in the CBA, where he was the leading scorer with nearly 30 points a game for the Idaho Stampede, Dickens was heading somewhere else. The New Jersey Nets signed Kaniel on Dec. 8th on this year to add some depth the team’s depleted bench.
“I told myself if I got another shot I would not put so much pressure on myself,” he said. “And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll keep looking for the next opportunity to pursue. I’m just trying to give what I got and hopefully it works out.”
In five games with the Nets, Dickens is averaging 2.0 ppg in over seven minutes of action. Even in his limited time with the team, Kaniel has impressed the one man who can impact his future.
“Kaniel is a quick learner and a good athlete,” said head coach Lawrence Frank. “You get what you earn in this league but he can definitely score as he did in the CBA.”
At this point in his career, Dickens in not about to squander this opportunity because he knows it could be his last.
“For some guys it’s about the money,” he said. “For me it’s about establishing myself as a good player in this league. I’d do that for free!”
Luckily, Kaniel doesn’t have to work for free – at least not at this moment – but the lessons he has learned on his journey along the long and winding road have been worth their weight in gold.
“You can’t focus on the other guy, you have to focus on yourself,” he said. “Take from every situation something that will make you a better player. So if it doesn’t work out you leave there better than you came.”
And no one knows that more than Kaniel Dickens.