If she wasn't knocking down 3-pointers and hauling in rebounds, it would be easy to overlook Nicole Dickson.
The lone senior on the University of Memphis women's basketball team is extremely quiet, so you won't see her on the court yelling and screaming. You also won't be able to tell by looking whether she's having a good game or a bad one because her facial expression has been the same for three straight seasons.
Well, except for one game last season when she knocked down a couple of 3-pointers during a critical stretch and ran to the bench during a timeout pumping her fists. Believe it or not, that rare display of emotion is what Dickson plans to showcase often in her final season, beginning with Friday's 7 p.m. season opener against Grambling State at Elma Roane Fieldhouse. "I'm going to try to step out of my shell and show some emotion and get the crowd into it a little bit," Dickson vowed. "I'm going to get excited and not just keep one facial expression by jumping up and down with my teammates and having fun."
If the preseason all-Conference USA performer has the season that's expected, then there should be plenty of emotion for her to exhibit. The 6-foot guard from Greeneville, Tenn., is coming off a season in which she averaged career highs in points (13.5) and rebounds (8.3).
Showing emotion isn't the only thing that's different about Dickson this season. The quiet, soft-spoken Dickson had to brush up on her leadership skills. In the past, that was left to Brittany Carter, Jasmine Lee and Ramses Lonlack. Now Dickson and junior point guard Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir are the only upperclassmen that have played regularly.
"Nicole is so laid back," coach Melissa McFerrin said. "There's nothing that fazes her. It didn't faze her to be under the gun as a freshman and it's not going to faze her to be a leader as a senior. Nicole just accepts every day as it comes and every situation as it comes. In all honesty, it's kind of hard to fluster the kid."
Abdul-Qaadir knows that better than most. The two came to Memphis in the same recruiting class.
"Off the court, she's funny. She's the same way, laid back, but when she does talk, you're going to laugh."
On the court, Dickson has been even more dependable. Her first two years she was instant offense off the bench. But after McFerrin told her she would never start unless she learned to play defense, Dickson worked on that part of her game.
That earned her a spot in the starting lineup last year when Dickson set a school record with seven consecutive double-doubles. This year, McFerrin plans to use her at power forward, hoping to create mismatches that force bigger forwards to guard her on the perimeter.
"It's going to be an adjustment," McFerrin said. "She's going to see different matchups. She's going to see people running at her in different ways. She may see double teams that she hasn't seen before."