Connecticut's Jerome Dyson is proud to be from Scotland
Not long ago, Jerome Dyson could walk down the streets near his childhood home and hardly anybody would notice. Sure, his friends, family and his neighbors in the Scotland neighborhood of Potomac -- a 10-acre enclave that was one of the earliest African American settlements in Montgomery County -- took pride in his basketball accomplishments. But once he stepped off the court, few others in the community paid him much attention.
But that was before he was named one of 30 finalists for the John Wooden Award, given annually to college basketball's best player, and before his Hall of Fame coach compared him to Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton when he was just a freshman.
"I think when you have success, people start to realize the person that you are," said Dyson, who played two seasons at Churchill High in Potomac before transferring to Proctor Academy in New Hampshire and eventually earning a scholarship to play for Coach Jim Calhoun and the Huskies. "I saw that as soon as I came back from prep school, the different respect people have for you. . . . There's a lot of people who would probably say [I changed] because now when I come back, everyone says hi to me. Before I left, those people didn't really say much."
During Dyson's two years at Churchill, he felt used, a student who was unfairly characterized because of the neighborhood he grew up in and only given guidance and help when his eligibility for the basketball team was concerned.
"There was times where only during basketball season you felt like you were a part of the Churchill community," said Dyson, a 6-foot-4 senior guard and team captain at Connecticut. "Once basketball season was over, nobody really cared how good your grades were. Nobody stayed on top of me. I'm sad that I had to go away, but I think it made me a better person."
"If he had stayed here, he would not be where he is now," said Dyson's mother, Julie Harriday, who is a pastor at the Immanuel Church of God in Germantown and still lives in Scotland. "He would have gotten lost in the shuffle and looked at only as an athlete. A lot of athletes in the Scotland community . . . they get localized like, 'He's from Scotland.' Why not just from Potomac? It's been separated like that for so long. Now they see him in a different light, but Jerome is still the same incredible kid I always thought of him to be."
According to his mother, Dyson began to mature when he went to Proctor Academy on a suggestion from Walter Ray, whose Washington area nonprofit organization helps youth and college-age athletes find second chances. Dyson repeated his sophomore year and gained valuable life experience studying abroad in Spain for two months, all while transforming himself into one of the more coveted basketball recruits in the nation.
Then as a sophomore in college in 2008 -- he was Connecticut's second-leading scorer at the time -- Dyson and former teammate Doug Wiggins were suspended after campus police found them in a car with alcohol and a small bag of marijuana nearby. Even though Dyson was later reinstated to the team, it took him months to get back into the good graces of the Connecticut coaching staff. But by last season, Calhoun was praising Dyson's toughness, prowess as a perimeter defender and his role as an integral force for a Huskies team that started the year 24-1.
Dyson's season was derailed in a Feb. 11 victory over Syracuse, when he collided with the Orange's Andy Rautins on a drive to the basket and tore the meniscus in his right knee, an injury that would force him to watch from the sideline as his teammates made a run to the Final Four.
"I've definitely matured these past couple of years because of situations I put myself in and I definitely learned from the situations I had in the past," said Dyson. "I try not to put myself in those situations. Even on the court, I've developed my game a lot more since last year. . . . I'm understanding the game a lot more, I pick and choose times to use my speed."
"He's a very unique player, incredibly valuable," Calhoun told reporters earlier this week. "I got some funny looks last year when I said I thought we had a chance to win the whole thing if he stayed healthy. I think maybe people are seeing why now."
Dyson's homecoming on Saturday has a bittersweet ring to it, though. He expects around 20 family members and friends to be in attendance at Verizon Center when No. 13 Connecticut takes on No. 12 Georgetown, his first game back in the area since January 2008. But more relatives could not attend because one of his cousins died last Saturday and the funeral is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Dyson was planning to get into town early Friday to attend the wake.
"I've been away for three years in high school where nobody got to see me play and we've only had a couple games at Georgetown while I've been here at U-Conn.," Dyson said, "so it's definitely difficult because the one opportunity where I get to see my family and they get to see me play, some of them won't be there."
Dyson will take the floor in the midst of the finest stretch of basketball he has ever played. The Huskies' leading scorer, he is the only player in the country averaging at least 19 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game. This year, he has added a pull-up jumper to his repertoire, largely because of last season's knee injury. Known primarily as a slasher and an excellent defender, he's been trying to stay on his feet and avoid drawing charges after "taking a lot of beatings the past three years."
The maturation in his game is also drawing the attention of NBA scouts. Most early mock drafts project Dyson as a second-round pick. He would be the first player from Potomac, and just the fifth from Montgomery County, to play in the NBA. But the doubters have been with him all along, even in his own neighborhood. Perhaps the one quality people didn't notice through some of his youthful missteps was the most important one -- that of perseverance.
"I feel like everybody continues to evolve, you evolve from the decisions you come by," said Dyson. "I had an opportunity to take my talent somewhere else and I thrived on the opportunity. I feel like we have so many great athletes in Scotland that don't make it out, that don't get the opportunities I had. You can go there now and you can find people who could play Division I football or basketball and never got the chance. I'm very proud I grew up there, but I wouldn't do anything differently."