The Sports Rabbi sat down with Jerome Dyson for intimate conversation about his youth, college exploits at the University of Connecticut Huskies along with his many ups and downs as a professional. Sit back, enjoy and learn a little bit more about Hapoel Jerusalem’s starting point guard:
Q: Who is Jerome Dyson, where do you come from? Talk a little bit about your youth growing up.
A: I was born and raised in Potomac, Maryland. I was a kid who was always involved in sports, everywhere I went I always had a basketball with me, I played football, basketball and baseball so when I was younger I would play one game and my mom would get me in the car and take me to the next game. I was always kept active no matter what sport it was.
Q: What player did you look up to when you were younger, who did you admire?
A: It wasn’t until high school that I became a big Tracy McGrady fan and I still try to fill his shoes to this day, I still remember in freshman year of high school his shoes came out and I just had to get them, I wore them in a game and had 33 points. Since then getting a brand new pair of shoes is a treasure for me and I know I’m going to go out and have a great game if I have a brand new pair of shoes on me. Whenever I go out on websites I try to find the shoes but they don’t make them anymore. All players have that little attachment whether it be a pair of socks or a sleeve that connects to them in some type of way.
Q: Where did you go to high school?
A: I started off at Church Hill which is in Potomac Maryland. From there I went to prep school in New Hampshire which was called Proctor Academy.
Q: The purpose you went to New Hampshire was because you thought it would help get you into a better college at the time or to play ball?
A: A little bit of both, at that time in freshman year of high school and heading into sophomore year the letters started coming in about different schools that are interested in me. For me Church Hill wasn’t concerned about where I was at academically so it was important that I got out of there. Everything was okay when basketball season was there but once basketball season ended it was like I was forgotten. I needed a change and that was the biggest thing I went from a D and C student to an A and B student, and getting detached from Church Hill made me a more complete person.
Q: You ended up going to University of Connecticut. Were there any other colleges that you had options to go to?
A: There were options, at the same time there was Florida, Providence, Wake Forest, BC, and then after my senior year I started playing AAU basketball and the whole time I was in prep school in New Hampshire so I’d rarely get to come home to play any type of basketball so I didn’t really play AAU until my senior year. I ended up playing with the Blue Devils I was with T.Y Lawson who was point guard, I was shooting guard and Kevin Durant was the small forward. That was really when a lot of schools started to look at me and wanted me to come over and visit. For me, once UCONN came it was a no brainer and at that time I think we had 19 active players in the NBA and that was a goal for me. So going there to play and still finding somebody to keep connected with home and the family that I had made in New Hampshire. It was the middle ground for me and it was a great opportunity.
Q: Junior year you had a successful run at UCONN but of course you would have liked to be there one more year so you would have been on the national championship team:
A: We had a chance to be in that spot, if I could have been there to help out, it was a really guard heavy Michigan State team that we played and I think I could have been there to help out to give us that opportunity.
Q: Your Junior year you ended up getting hurt in February, which is right before the tournament so you are out. What was going through your mind because you have a great team that ends up going deep into the tournament and you are now on the sidelines:
A: It was tough because at that time you are in college, you see mock drafts and you see your name up there and my name was still in the first round and I’m thinking that this year is going to be the year. It was kind of crazy because right before that game guys were in the locker room talking about the NBA and all that and I thought to myself that I’m not coming back after this year.
A lot of people were leaving so I wanted to leave as well. I guess maybe 7 or 8 minutes into the game I was chasing my guy and I planted my right foot to change directions and I fell. It was very tough, I still think about it now. I get back to the locker room and at that time I still didn’t really know what happened, I still can’t really bend my knee a lot because the way my meniscus tore, it flapped in between the bones and it was stuck so I couldn’t bend it. All I wanted to do was to get back out there and help my team, and the trainer told me that if I can walk than I can go back out there. I kept trying and trying but I couldn’t.
The doctors kept doing different tests and they came back and told me that they think I tore my meniscus. At that point it was a choice that I had to make, maybe I should have consulted with somebody and talked things over with but they came to me and said you can have surgery and be out 3 and a half months or you can have surgery where they can clean it up and you will be back in a week or 2 but it will cut about 5 years off your career. The logical thing to do was to not take 5 years off my career, so I ended up having surgery to fully repair it. It was more mentally challenging than it was physical because I felt disconnected and I wasn’t able to be with my team. We were on to having a great season, we had lost only one game and it was a season to be remembered. The only thing I could really think about was not being able to be apart of it any further.
Q: After going undrafted, where did you end up?
A: I went to summer league with the Oklahoma City Thunder, I ended up playing on their D-League team. The crazy thing I had no one to talk to me through the whole process. There wasn’t anything at that point in time where there was a decision where I thought, these three months have passed, get yourself back into the type of shape where you can still make this work. At the time my stock was still high. I get into senior year and I go through the different team interviews and I start talking with some teams and they say why didn’t you declare for the draft your junior year we would still have drafted you. Once I heard that my heart dropped, it was like a nightmare and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I played in the D-League for 2 years and during my second year I got the call up to finish my season with New Orleans. It was very exciting that I had finally made it, I was in there playing well and the last game of the season I get hurt. I had a bone bruise to my ankle so I was out another 2 to 3 months. At that time I was crushed again. How can this happen again? I finally get my chance and it all just evaporates. I go home and I finish up rehab, but with a bone bruise there is no time table so it could be better whenever. New Orleans ends up trading me at that time because I have a non guaranteed contract. I get traded to Phoenix and then they waive me. At that time I’m talking to my agent and asking him what’s going on and he’s telling me that nothing ever happened and that I didn’t get traded and stringing me along so at that point I fired my agent. After I fired him there was a grace period until I could sign another agent so these next 30 days I had no representation when I was going to teams to talk about me. By the time I could sign a new agent everything was already done, it was too late for me to sign with a team.
Q: How was your first experience in Israel with Hapoel Holon?
A: There were a lot of ups and downs, I wasn’t married at the time so I came here alone. I think it was the first week I got here and I’m driving to get something to eat. I get to the place and order my food and then there was a loud boom. Everyone starts running and they are speaking Hebrew, I have no clue what’s going on and at that time Gaza was shooting rockets into Israel. The rocket blew up right over us and I was very confused as to what is going on and I thought where did my agent send me. I wasn’t told about any of this. So I called my agent asking him where he sent me and telling him that I want to go home now, but after that it settled down and I understood what was going on. As far as the season went, there were ups and downs like I said, we had just started the Eurochallenge competition. We have a lot of injuries and then our captain gets suspended. Everything that could’ve gone wrong went wrong and it was one thing after another.
Q: Look at yourself now. You come back to Israel and you end up winning the championship this past year and there were definitely a lot of little bumps along the way. You have a great run in Europa which ends in the semifinals and then you go down 0-2 to Nahariya in the quarterfinals. At that point you had been languishing on the bench, hadn’t really been playing much, what was going through your mind as you were down 0-2 and about to be knocked out by Nahariya?
A: You always hit a point where you feel that this can’t keep going. That this is not us. We know what we are capable of and what we can do. When we played them and no disrespect to Nahariya, but the teams that we played in Europe were bigger opponents and for us to come out and play that way was unacceptable. We knew that if we didn’t win this next game then our season would be over. So we had to go out there and leave whatever we had and not worry about the game after that. Take care of this game and then we will worry about the next one.
Q: Was there one player that said “Guys, lets go”. Was it really one person or was it a collective group effort?
A: It was a collective effort, we all knew exactly what we had to do and what we needed to do. It’s about going out there and leaving it for that one game and not worrying about having to go back to Nahariya. We need to worry about this one, then we can worry about the next one.
Q: Over the next 3 games, you go off and play exactly how we all thought you could play. You were undoubtedly the MVP of the final without a question.
A: To me it was unbelievable. But we are still hungry even from how we finished last year. We still have more to prove.