Hoops for Hope

by Howie Stalwick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & an Dickau, who helped bring Gonzaga to the big time, is now bringing the big time to Gonzaga.

For the second straight year, Dickau is utilizing his considerable charms to coax fellow National Basketball Association players and former Gonzaga stars into taking a break from their summer vacations to play in a benefit basketball game at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center next Thursday.

Last July, the inaugural Toyota Dan Dickau Charity Classic raised slightly more than $100,000 for local charities and nonprofit organizations. Dickau hopes to top that figure this year with help from a bigger crowd (approximately 1,500 of McCarthey's 6,000 seats went unsold last year) and the addition of a celebrity poker tournament on Wednesday at co-sponsor Northern Quest Casino.

"Spokane has a special place in my heart," Dickau said in a phone interview last week from his hometown of Vancouver, Wash. "I love it up there.

"If my wife and I weren't from Vancouver, I'm sure we would be living up there. Everyone in Spokane has been so supportive of me during my career."

The charity work involves considerable sacrifice by Dickau, particularly this year. Recently traded by Boston to back to Portland, Dickau is still recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon that required season-ending surgery last December and will keep him on the sidelines in Spokane.

"I feel great," Dickau says. "I don't have any worries that I won't be ready for training camp."

The serious leg injury is the latest in a long line of hurdles that Dickau has overcome to play in the NBA. He stood just 5-foot-5 in eighth grade; he didn't blossom in college until he wound up at Gonzaga after two unhappy years at Washington; and he's been traded a mind-boggling six times -- including four moves in 10 months at one juncture.

"There have been days I'm like, 'What's going on?'" Dickau admits. "But you know what? I love what I do. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I've dreamed of playing in the NBA since I was a little kid."

Dickau averaged 20.1 points and 5.3 assists per game at Gonzaga -- he was the school's only first-team All-American until Adam Morrison this year -- but Dickau has averaged just 6.7 points and 2.8 assists in the NBA. The 6-foot, 190-pound point guard posted career highs of 12.5 points and 4.9 assists in 2004-05, when he was traded by Dallas to lowly New Orleans early in the season and earned his only regular playing time or starts as a pro.

Dickau calls going to New Orleans "my big break," but it was followed by a trade last season to Boston -- a team, like Portland, that is loaded with guards. Dickau did parlay his big season in New Orleans into a guaranteed three-year, $7.5 million contract, but ...

"That's not why I play basketball," Dickau says. "I play basketball because it's what I do. It's fun."

Lining up players for the charity game is not always "fun," but Dickau does his best during and after the season. "It's very hard to nail down guys even two weeks beforehand ... [but] we'll definitely have eight, nine, 10 NBA guys," he says.

Arguably, the NBA player Gonzaga fans would like to see most is Morrison, who was selected third overall by Charlotte in the NBA draft last month. The date of the charity game falls during a five-day break in Morrison's training camp with the U.S. national team in Las Vegas.

"Obviously, we'd love to have Adam," Dickau says. "It just depends on his schedule."

Dickau says he's received solid early commitments from Philadelphia 76ers gunner Kyle Korver (who played last year) and Boston's Ryan Gomes and Brian Scalabrini. Ex-Zags who appear to be solid bets to play include Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo, Cory Violette, Zach Gourde and J.P. Batista.

Dickau also hopes to land former Bulldog stalwart Casey Calvary. However, two of Gonzaga's all-time greats will be absent -- Blake Stepp, due to knee surgery (for the second straight year), and Ronny Turiaf, who is playing with the French national team after breaking into the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

Dickau won't be playing basketball in Spokane next week, but he's all set for the poker tournament, which figures to include several other basketball players as well as professional poker players from Las Vegas.

A long list of prizes will be offered, including ones for knocking Dickau or other celebrities out of the tournament. First prize is an expense-paid trip to Las Vegas for the 2007 NBA All-Star Game, a 50-inch plasma flat-screen TV and an autographed Dickau jersey.

More prizes will be handed out at the game, including $1,000 cash. The hilarious Phoenix Suns Gorilla mascot will be on hand to add further spice to a game that provides area residents with a rare opportunity to see NBA players up close and personal, with plenty of emphasis on flash and dash rather than defense.

Plus, all the money raised stays in the area. Dickau hopes to make the game and other fund-raising events (including a Christian concert next year) an annual event, but it's not easy. The NBA requires such events to make $100,000 for charity or nonprofits in order to be sanctioned, and Spokane -- an extremely small market for NBA charity games -- barely made the grade last year.

"It's a unique event for Spokane ... I thought it was a fun event last year," Dickau said. "It should be again."

Dickau only wishes he could play in the game, as he did last year. For now, he must keep pushing himself through five-days-a-week rehab sessions and hope he can find a way to stay close to his Vancouver home -- and his "second home" of Spokane -- by playing in Portland for years to come.

"The NBA -- it's definitely a business," says Dickau, who has played for Atlanta, Portland (for part of the 2003-04 season), Dallas, New Orleans and Boston since being drafted by Sacramento in the first round of the 2002 draft. "There's more blessings than anything else with this last trade, being back home.

"Once I get healthy, I feel I have a really good chance to play a significant role."

The Toyota Dan Dickau Charity Classic is Thursday, July 27, at 7 pm at the McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga University. Tickets are $18-$32. Call 325-SEAT or visit www.ticketswest.com.

A celebrity poker tournament, open to 30 celebrities and 100 just-regular folks, is Wednesday, July 26, at 7 pm at Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, Wash. Non-celebrities pay $500 to enter and receive gift bags valued at $200, including photos, autographs and two tickets for the basketball game. Proceeds benefit area charities. Visit www.DanDickau.com or call (206) 295-6298.