n April 2018, Makayla Dickens wasn’t even committed to play basketball at Boston College. Instead, she was slated to join Albany under then-head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. But things quickly changed.
When BC women’s basketball head coach Erik Johnson resigned after a 7-23 season, Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond hired Bernabei-McNamee to fill the void and kickstart a turnaround for the program. Bernabei-McNamee inherited most of Johnson’s recruits, but she did bring one player with her—and that was Dickens.
Once she was presented with the opportunity to play for BC, Dickens immediately seized it.
“Who’s going to say, ‘no,’ to playing in the ACC, the best conference in the country for women’s basketball? That was the best option for me. Plus, the education here is unreal, so you get the best of both worlds.”
Dickens burst onto the scene, earning The Heights’ Breakout Female Athlete of the Year Award in the process. As a freshman, she started 18 games and averaged 11.8 points per game along with 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Additionally, she was the Eagles’ most lethal shooter from beyond the arc, connecting on 35.8 percent of her 3-point attempts.
“Who’s going to say, ‘no,’ to playing in the ACC, the best conference in the country for women’s basketball? That was the best option for me. Plus, the education here is unreal, so you get the best of both worlds.” Makayla Dickens
rowing up, Dickens started playing basketball at the age of 5. The sport came naturally to her, and she enjoyed the game, citing how it allowed her to destress from general anxieties. But she also played softball as well and even competed on a travel team. In 10th grade, she made the decision to quit the sport and fully devote her time and effort to basketball.
That same year, Dickens made another important choice. Having played her first two years at Lakeland High School, she excelled, averaging 22 points per game. But Dickens realized that she wouldn’t reach her full potential at Lakeland and develop into a DI-caliber player. To reach that goal, Dickens transferred to Princess Anne High School, located in Virginia Beach, Va., a powerhouse program that had won three straight state championships under head coach Darnell Dozier.
After transferring, Dickens helped the team continue its dynastic success. She led the program to two more state titles. Dickens’ senior season stood out in particular, as she anchored a team that finished with a 26-1 record and ended the year riding a 21-game winning streak. At Princess Anne, Dickens averaged 15 points, four rebounds, and three assists per game. Despite the fact that her numbers dipped, the quality of her opponents and her level of play now attracted the interest of several schools. Ultimately, she committed to Albany in December 2017.
But as soon as Bernabei-McNamee accepted the job at BC, Dickens had a conversation with her. Even though Dickens was still bound by the national letter of intent she had signed to play for Albany, she and Bernabei-McNamee came to an informal agreement that Dickens would join her coach as an Eagle. Come June, Dickens made her official commitment on Twitter, and a few months later, she now found herself arriving at Chestnut Hill to embark on her collegiate career.
n her early games, she made an immediate impact—in fact, she scored 10 or more points in five of her first six contests. Eventually, she cooled off in the middle of the non-conference stretch, only breaking the 10-point barrier in one of the next six contests.
It was during the beginning of conference play that Dickens truly came into form. Building off some impressive performances against Campbell and Dartmouth, she came into league play with strong efforts against Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest.
Dickens especially shined in the clutch. For the Eagles’ first ACC road contest, they traveled down to Winston-Salem, N.C. to face the Demon Deacons. The game was close throughout, but BC held a slim edge in the closing minute. Dickens was making her presence known all over the floor and had 15 rebounds to her name. With the Eagles up, 65-64, junior Taylor Ortlepp launched a shot with a couple of seconds remaining. The ball bounced out, but Dickens secured the offensive board, her 16th rebound and the most important one of the night as it gave the Eagles their first conference win of the season.
Perhaps her best performance of the season came on Jan. 31 against Duke. The Eagles were locked into a back-and-forth affair with the Blue Devils. Duke held the lead in the waning moments of regulation, but Dickens connected on a shot to force overtime. But she didn’t just play hero once. When the game entered a second overtime, she helped BC take a slim advantage. With the contest tied up and only a few seconds remaining, Dickens received an inbound and heaved a running jumper.
“I just saw an opening. I looked at the time, and I was like, ‘Maybe I can get a shot off.’”
She did. The shot went in as time expired, sealing a thrilling win for BC.
“I aged about 10 years and have about 30 more gray hairs—Makayla [Dickens] gives them to me, but then she plays the type of game that she just played,” Bernabei-McNamee said after the game. “Like I told her, I don’t know how many freshmen I could yell at as much as I yelled at her and then still have the poise to hit such big shots.”
“I aged about 10 years and have about 30 more gray hairs—Makayla [Dickens] gives them to me, but then she plays the type of game that she just played...I don’t know how many freshmen I could yell at as much as I yelled at her and then still have the poise to hit such big shots.” Head Coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee
ccording to Bernabei-McNamee, Dickens is her own worst critic. But in her eyes, this is what makes her a good player. All year, Bernabei-McNamee coached Dickens hard because she was a freshman, and she was in the unique position of soaking up plenty of minutes as a first-year player.
Referencing the Duke game, Bernabei-McNamee explains, “One time I took her out and told her, ‘Don’t pout!’ And then next thing you know, she’s hitting the game-winner.”
She nearly replicated her 25-point effort against Duke—a season-high—in the next three games, but the Eagles ended up on the wrong side of the box score each time.
As the season wore on, fatigue began to set in, and Dickens—along with the rest of the team—struggled, ending the year with an nine-game losing streak, which included a season-ending loss to Virginia in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Dickens only averaged 6.5 points per game during the final six contests, which marked a stark contrast from her scoring level earlier in the season. While Dickens struggled to pick up points, BC simply could not stop opposing offenses during the skid, giving up 90-plus points on five different occasions.
The Eagles faltered on defense against some of the most explosive offenses in the nation and paid a big price in the loss column, one that Dickens hasn’t forgotten. In order to improve her game, she will be staying at school over the summer along with several teammates to participate in offseason workouts that are led by Bernabei-McNamee.
“She definitely challenges me to be the best player that I can be,” Dickens said of her head coach. “Without her, I wouldn’t even be here. For her to give me this opportunity is a blessing.”
hile Dickens knows that she needs to improve on the defensive end, she also knows her greatest strength—her court vision. Bernabei-McNamee also mentioned this as a core part of her game. Dickens’ passing skills, coupled with her ability to connect from deep, make her a dangerous player. The value that she has brought forth as a player has made Bernabei-McNamee’s transition much easier.
In fact, the head coach took comfort in the fact that at least one of her players was joining her this past summer.
“For us, it felt like we had one of the bricks of the foundation because we knew each other and knew what we were about,” she said.
Seeing Dickens’ success gives Bernabei-McNamee confidence moving forward in her recruiting.
“A lot of times, big-name recruits don’t want to come to us initially—we have to find kids that want to work hard and become that big-time name. That’s something that Makayla did this year. She wasn’t the McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school, and now she is making the all-rookie team in the ACC.”
For her accomplishments on the court, Dickens was named to the All-ACC Freshman team as one of the eight honorees. She was also tabbed a member of the All-ACC Academic Team for her work in the classroom.
“I think she’s one of those players that made our upperclassmen realize, ‘Wow we need to put more time into the game on our own,’” Bernabei-McNamee said of Dickens’ work ethic. “She puts the man hours in on her own, the nonmandatory stuff, that makes players great. Makayla does that. She has brought that to our team.”
“She puts the man hours in on her own, the nonmandatory stuff, that makes players great. Makayla does that. She has brought that to our team.” Head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee
ickens remains humble—even with all of the accolades that she has received. Her one goal is team-oriented—make the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles’ last appearance in the dance came in the 2005-06 season, when they were coached by Cathy Inglese, the winningest coach in program history.
Jumping from seven to 14 wins is no small feat, and with most of the core roster intact—along with several incoming recruits—the Eagles are likely to take another step forward next season. Plus, with Dickens leading the way at the point and Bernabei-McNamee serving as a guiding force, the future is quite bright for BC women’s basketball. The two are rebuilding and redefining the program together.
As Bernabei-McNamee stated, “I love that I am able to coach her pretty hard. For an 18-year old, that’s exciting, because her best basketball is still ahead of her.”
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor
Images by Celine Lim / Heights Editor and Keara Hanlon / For The Heights