Dixon hits an honors 2-pointer

Terps senior named ACC Player of Year, 1st-team All-American

Calvert Hall recruit blooms

Called `special player, person,' guard keeps focus on team, tourney

March 13, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- He arrived at the University of Maryland with little fanfare nearly five years ago, and he will leave as one of the most recognized players the school has ever produced.

Senior guard Juan Dixon, who soon should be the most prolific scorer in school history, has said he wants nothing more than to help the fourth-ranked Terrapins win their first national championship. In the meantime, the personal recognition keeps on coming for the slender, 6-foot-3 Calvert Hall graduate.

Dixon yesterday became the first Maryland player since Joe Smith to be named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and a member of the Associated Press All-America first team in the same season.

Dixon, who has led Maryland in scoring for the past three seasons and is the only Terp besides John Lucas (1974-76) to make the All-ACC first team three times, edged out Duke junior guard Jason Williams, who won top league honors last year. Dixon received 41 out of 84 votes cast by the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association. Williams drew 38 votes.

Williams and Dixon, who were unanimous selections to the all-conference team last week, were joined on the All-America squad by junior Kansas forward Drew Gooden, and senior guards Steve Logan of Cincinnati and Dan Dickau of Gonzaga.

"It's something I can share with everybody. It's a great feeling, especially when your team is winning," said Dixon, whose Terps (26-4) begin their quest to return to the Final Four by opening the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East Regional against 16th-seeded Siena on Friday night at MCI Center.

"A lot of people have always said that I couldn't do this or that I couldn't do that. That's fine. Sure that provides me a lot of motivation. I believed in myself," Dixon added. "What's most important is that we keep focused on our games in the tournament. Nobody receives the individual honors unless his team is winning."

Maryland, a top NCAA tournament seed for the first time, recently concluded its best-ever regular season by going 25-3 and winning its first conference title in 22 years with a 15-1 record. Dixon played a huge role in that success by finishing second in the ACC in scoring and leading the conference in steals for the third straight year.

"I've found [Dixon] to be as good a competitor and player that we've played against. I think it's a well-earned honor. He's one of the best," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils finished two games behind Maryland in the regular-season standings before winning their fourth straight ACC tournament.

"He's a special player and a special person," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said of Dixon, whom Gillen recruited unsuccessfully when he coached at Providence. "He's a tough, hard-nosed kid. With his talent and his toughness, he deserves it all."

Dixon, who grew up in East Baltimore and battled tremendous off-the-court adversity -- he lost both parents to drug-related AIDS while he was in high school -- was considered by some to be too light and frail to make an impact in the rough-and-tumble ACC. He was redshirted in his first season, then backed up future NBA star Steve Francis as a freshman.

Ever since breaking out as a budding star during his sophomore season, during which he scored 31 points in a huge victory at Duke and moved into all-conference company soon thereafter, Dixon has become known as one of the collegiate game's most creative scorers and tenacious defenders.

"Juan wasn't that heavily recruited coming out of high school, and to see his hard work culminate in being named first-team All-America and the ACC Player of the Year is a great thrill for me," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

"I think it says even more about Juan Dixon and what he has become as a basketball player. He has worked very hard. He's given us a player that really wants to win. Anytime you can impose your will the way he has, it's very valuable to your team."

Dixon leads Maryland into the NCAAs with a 19.3-point scoring average. He led the conference with 2.7 steals per game and a 90.8 free-throw shooting percentage. Dixon also owns the nation's longest active double-digit scoring streak at 48 games, and is the only player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 three-point field goals.

"I never expected to win it," Dixon said of his ACC award. "It was really never my goal, but I'll take it. Everybody always said it was going to go to Jason Williams. Really, I'm happy with my accomplishments.

"I always think I'm going to win. But I think most good players think that way. You have to," added Dixon, who needs 36 points to pass Len Bias (2,149) as the top scorer in Terps history and needs 24 steals to pass former Terp Johnny Rhodes as the ACC's career leader.

Dixon already has been part of 104 career victories, more than any other Maryland player.

Next for Terps

Opponent: Siena (17-18) in NCAA tournament East Regional first round

Site: MCI Center, Washington

When: Friday, 10:10 p.m. (approximately)

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