A star already tempered by life Boys basketball: Calvert Hall's Juan Dixon, headed for Maryland next season, is admired not only for his on-court skills, but for the way he -- and his family -- have dealt with some tough challenges.

January 05, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

What's most obvious about Juan Dixon, watching him execute on the basketball court, are the all-around skills that have the Calvert Hall senior rated among the nation's best high school Division I prospects as a guard.

He can solve opposing defenses with seemingly effortless moves toward the basket or with timely passes. His pull-up three-pointer off the dribble -- he's a 50-percent shooter from that range -- often finds nothing but net. He has poise at the line, where he's a near 90-percent shooter.

And he can take control of a game, as he did in scoring a career-high 47 points in a recent victory over Anacostia, then ranked No. 1 in the Washington, D.C., area by the Washington Post.

"He's a pure shooter," observes Maryland's Gary Williams, whom Dixon expects to be his coach next season. "But to me, Juan is more than that. I don't want him to come in here known as a three-point shooter but as a guy who can do a lot more."

A conversation might reveal that the talented, 6-foot-3 sharp-shooter, like many 18-year-olds, enjoys video games and hanging out at the mall.

But get to know Dixon on a deeper level, and you might discover a young man whose strength of character and life-coping abilities have won as much admiration from Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci as his court generalship has praise and respect.

Become acquainted with that Juan Dixon and the adversity he's overcome, and you'll likely be as taken as Amatucci at the teen whose message sounds much like this: "Don't worry, be happy."

"I get attached to the kids I coach, but this one's kind of special," said Amatucci, who has at times questioned Dixon's physical strength for the next level -- even his focus for games -- but never his character. "Anyone who gets to know Juan Dixon has to respect what he's been through and the decisions he's managed to make, in spite of those experiences."

Dixon, whose parents died within a year-and-a-half of each other -- his mother in August 1994, his father in December 1995 -- said: "I've always liked having fun. I've always tried to be a happy person.

"Fortunately, I've always had family members that have pointed me in the right direction," said Dixon, who grew up playing on the courts of Northwest Baltimore's Cecil Kirk Recreation Center and attended Lake Clifton as a freshman.

"When my parents died, it was very tough, and it drew me a lot closer to the rest of my family, especially my brother Phil," said Juan Dixon, who also has a younger sister, Nicole, 15, and brother, Jermaine Cooper, 9.

"Sometimes, we'd just go out and shoot the ball and talk about accomplishing my dreams of going to college, like my parents always wanted. My brother went on and got his degree, and I would think about being a good role model to my little brother and sister."

Dixon has plenty others to thank. There are grandmothers Winona Dixon and Roberta Graves, the latter of whom, along with husband Warnick Graves, raised Juan from the age of 4. Aunts Sheila and Janice Dixon and Cherise Driver, along with uncle Mark Smith "helped me to maintain focus and go after my goals and dreams," Dixon said.

Dixon completed one of those goals by signing early with Maryland, accepting a full scholarship in November to play for the Terps next season. Dixon has a 2.4 grade-point average and expects to achieve the necessary Scholastic Assessment Test score to be eligible to play as a freshman.

"Calvert Hall has prepared me well -- Coach Amatucci, the counselors," said Dixon, who is averaging more than 25 points, six assists and three blocks a game. "Most days, I come home from school feeling proud that I put in a good day's work -- studying and practicing. I don't want to struggle when I get to Maryland."

Phil Dixon, a 1992 St. Frances Academy graduate, starred at Shenandoah College in Winchester, Va., earning Division III All-American honors and establishing school records for scoring (2,297) and assists (889). Phil's 8.6-assist average ranked second in the NCAA all-time.

"I got attention. I got interviews, and all that -- once by CNN. It was all fun, but everyone can't go to the NBA," said the senior Dixon brother, who is now a public relations employee with Baltimore's Department of Public Works. "I got a degree in mass communication. As the oldest, I guess I kind of dug out the path for my siblings, so hopefully, it's easier for them.

"I'm just 5-11, so Juan got all the height, but that doesn't mean he's got the title. He scored 47 points once in a game -- the most I ever scored -- but I scored 47, 46 and 45, and he still can't beat me one-on-one."

Pub Date: 1/05/97

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