Terps' Dixon finds a worm in Big Apple

Basketball: The Calvert Hall alumnus comes home for his next lesson after some rough Preseason NIT tests in his cram course on being a college shooting/point guard.

November 30, 1999|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The Kid does not have to be Da Man.

Juan Dixon is being taught a new position and testing his 6-foot-3, 152-pound frame up to 36 minutes a game. Last week, he discovered that Maryland doesn't need him to shoot 17 times, especially when he's a target. Terps coach Gary Williams told his players not to buy any watches in New York, but he said nothing about Dixon's getting mugged there.

"You have to let everything come to you. You can't force things," Dixon said of his adjustment to defenders who get up close and personal. "There are certain aspects of the game I'm still picking up. I've got to learn how to be more patient, instead of forcing things. I have to find my spots in the offense.

"Look, I'm learning something new every game."

Dixon's education will continue at 7: 30 tonight at Baltimore Arena, where No. 24 Maryland (4-1) meets Iowa (2-2) in the inaugural ACC-Big Ten Challenge. A redshirt sophomore out of Calvert Hall, Dixon welcomes the homecoming after a 6-for-28 shooting dip in two games at Madison Square Garden.

Williams didn't complain much about Dixon's shot selection in the Preseason NIT semifinals against Kentucky -- he went 3-for-17 -- because he's the guy who got the Terps to New York in the first place with a career-high 25 points against Tulane.

Maryland has a preseason All-American in do-it-all forward Terence Morris. Sophomore center Lonny Baxter and freshman point guard Steve Blake have exceeded expectations, but has anyone been given as much responsibility on this young team as Dixon? He's averaging a team-high 17.0 points and 32.4 minutes, and somehow has grabbed 6.6 rebounds a game.

Dixon is the backup to Blake, but the point is not a position in his resume. As Maryland's shooting guard, all he had to do was replace Steve Francis. There is precious room to spare on that skinny body, but he's a sponge, soaking up the knowledge that he'll need this season.

There are days when he is oblivious to matters beyond basketball and academics. Maryland's first exhibition game was Nov. 3, the day after his Aunt Sheila became the first black woman elected City Council president in Baltimore City.

Juan was unaware she had won in a landslide.

Dixon lost both of his parents to drug abuse, and Sheila Dixon is part of the large extended family that brought stability to his adolescence. He paid tribute to his biggest influence when he switched his uniform number from last year's 5 to 3, which his brother Phil wore at Division III Shenandoah College.

The Christian Brothers advanced his education at Calvert Hall, but he was not schooled in running the point there. As Cardinals coach Mark Amatucci put it: "Juan didn't have the mentality to play the point at the time. It was a given that he wasn't going to play any point for us."

Laron Profit nicknamed Dixon "The Kid" upon his arrival at Maryland in December 1997, when he set about doing anything that would merit playing time. This season, that meant backing up Blake, as well as starting for the first time.

"He's learning how to play point guard on the job," Williams said. "He goes a little too fast sometimes, never having played the point in his career. He's going to do that once in a while, but the one thing I have found with Juan is that you don't ever want to take away his aggressiveness, because that's what makes him a good player."

Dixon doesn't learn from game to game, but rather possession to possession. In one of his first sequences at the point, he took a hasty jumper in transition. Later in that same game against San Francisco, he controlled a loose ball and held up a hand to tell his teammates to slow it down.

It goes against Dixon's nature to back off or back down, which was only cultivated watching Francis' full-court approach to the game. The last time Dixon won a game at the end was against McDonogh School midway through his last season at Calvert Hall, but he had no reservations taking a three that would have tied it at the buzzer against Kentucky last Wednesday.

Dixon started 0-for-6 against Kentucky, and never got untracked against Notre Dame. He swore that the Fighting Irish employed a triangle-and-two against him and Morris, while against Kentucky, he gave up 2 inches and 50 pounds to the two defenders who shackled him. Think Duke might not study that tape and put Chris Carrawell on Dixon?

He spent the off-season improving his strength, so he could get off a shot against opponents who try to muscle him. Even though Crisfield's Andre Collins is expected to come in and back up Blake next season, Dixon worked on his ball-handling, so he could get by bigger defenders and prolong his basketball career.

"I'm not in a two [shooting] guard's body, and I'm not going to be able to do that if I want to play somewhere else after Maryland," Dixon said. "Bigger defenders, that's why I've had to work on putting the ball on the floor and going to the hole. I need to become better at hitting the pull-up jumper, or creating for my teammates."

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