Dickens plays the game the right way

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Haybalers junior Kaiya Dickens is having another terrific season on the hardwood. Photo by Robert Eliason.

San Benito High junior Kaiya Dickens set out specific goals for the 2019-2020 basketball season. One of them was to draw a charging foul against a Salinas High player who had repeatedly burned the Haybalers with drives to the basket in the last couple of years.

“Ever since I’ve been on the team as a freshman, she would always drive to the hoop and we would get called for blocking fouls,” said Dickens, who is one of the premier forwards in the Pacific Coast League. “Sometimes she would flop on the floor, and I remember thinking that I had to draw a charge on her by the time I graduate. I finally got the charge call (in a 63-50 loss to Salinas on Jan. 17), and that is one of the things I take the most pride in. I was happiest about taking that charge.”

Even though San Benito has struggled in Pacific Coast League Gabilan Division play—it improved to 2-5 in league play after a big win over Salinas Monday—Dickens is having another terrific season. She’s averaging a career-high in points per game, partly as a result of her improved free throw shooting. That is something Dickens has been working on since struggling mightily at the free throw line as a freshman.

“I’ve gotten a lot better with free throws since my freshman year,” she said. “I remember struggling with free throws and knowing I had to improve because I want to be that person the team can rely on for free throws. I want to make those free shots count because we need them. I’m taking high percentage shots, which is always a positive.”

Indeed, if Dickens is getting to the free throw line often, it means she’s driving to the hoop or posting up close to the basket and drawing contact. San Benito hopes Monday’s victory will reinvigorate its season. Salinas entered the game with a 6-1 record in division play, while the Balers were 1-5. The Balers have had a tough time dealing with full-court pressure from Gabilan Division opponents, but they’re capable of avenging some defeats, as the Salinas win attests.

“Against the press, we’ve had way too many turnovers and (therefore we’re) not getting enough opportunities to score,” Dickens said. “I think if we can handle the press, we’ll be in good shape. We have a really competitive league and all the teams are pretty even. We have a really good defense this year running a 1-2-2 zone, but sometimes we struggle offensively against the press.”

Dickens said she’s become a smarter player this season, more aggressive and continually learning the nuances of the game. In addition to her strong post-up game, Dickens will drive to the basket if the opportunity presents itself. Always known for her tenacious rebounding and tough defense, Dickens possesses a strong all-around game and combines that with a coachable attitude.

“I try to take everything coach (Mitch Burley) says and use that on the court,” she said. “Anything he tells me—even if it’s a super simple move—I try to be the most coachable I can be. I feel I’m a lot smarter player and I’m living and learning each time I go out on the court. I feel like I’m taking good shots, my passing and rebounding is where it should be and just knowing I need to step it up at all times.”

And that’s exactly what Dickens has done. She scored a career-high 31 points earlier in the season in the Del Mar Tournament and 23 points in a 54-48 loss to Seaside on Jan. 28, a game that put her over 300 points for the season. Dickens credited her teammates and coaches for helping to put her in a position to succeed, especially with senior center Jay Trejo. Dickens first met Trejo as a fourth-grader at Rancho San Justo, and the two have developed a great bond on the court through years of experience playing together.

“I can tell what she is going to do sometimes, and she can tell what I’m going to do sometimes,” Dickens said. “We’ve always played together, and it’s been one of the reasons how we’ve gotten better, because we push each other all the time. We’ve become really comfortable on the court, and she’s been my free throw partner since I was a freshman. I learn from all my teammates. They’re the ones who get me better, so I try to work hard in practice to be the best I can be, so I can help them improve as well. My goal is to have best attitude wherever I am and give the best effort I can because it will only make my teammates and I better. Those are the things I value.”

As the vice president of the Associated Student Body (ASB) club on campus, Dickens organizes a ton of activities, including Air Jamz events, which are lip sync competitions. Dickens even participated in one with her sister, best friend and their moms. One would think doing a performance of any kind in front of hundreds of people would be nerve-wracking; however, Dickens was made for something like this.

“I’m a big extrovert,” she said. “I’ve always spoken in front of people all the time and had no problem with that. Doing the choreography for the Air Jamz has never been super nerve-wracking for me.”

Although Dickens is responsible for putting on the Air Jamz events at school, she also helps out in other key ASB events as well. This year the club is doing a benefit drive for the family of George Ocampo, a 1984 San Benito High graduate.

“Our goal for the benefit drive is to raise $28,000,” Dickens said. “We’re doing door-to-door collections and restaurant nights all the time, and we go to games to help raise funds. I love being a part of ASB because we try to support a lot of people.”

Dickens loves organizing events to bring people together and foster a community environment. In addition to having never missed a Spirit Day at the high school, Dickens helps put on dances, noon time activities on campus and speaks at middle school assemblies of the feeder schools to San Benito High.

“It’s so enjoyable putting on events,” she said. “What I love about it is it can put a smile on people’s faces. It keeps me busy, and busy is better for me. I don’t like not being busy.”

Dickens’ sister, Jada, is an eighth grader at Rancho San Justo, and their brother, Kody, is in the fifth grade and plays baseball and soccer. Jada is the ASB president at Rancho and also plays club volleyball for Rush.  All of the siblings receive tremendous family support, as their grandparents regularly attend games. In fact, Dickens’ grandparents attend all of the San Benito High girls basketball home and away games, unless it’s out of the Bay Area.

When Kaiya is not practicing or playing for the basketball team, she’s on the softball field competing for San Benito High and the Cal A’s travel ball program. Dickens doesn’t know whether she’ll play basketball or softball in college, or perhaps both. Whatever happens, she’ll do it with a great attitude.

“Having the right attitude and giving a great effort are two really big things for me,” she said. “I’ve seen people I’ve played against who have bad attitudes or people not really caring or giving their best effort, and I hate seeing that. I see other people doing that, and it makes me think that I don’t want to be like that. Overall, I’m an optimistic, happy person. My parents (Erica Robledo Dickens and T.J.) always taught me to see things that way, which is great. I could not have done anything without family support.”