Dixon legacy seen in hoop dreams

Emulation: At the recreation center where the Terp and other greats got their start, young players bank on similar futures.

April 03, 2002|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson and Jamil Roberts | Kimberly A.C. Wilson and Jamil Roberts,SUN STAFF

Other kids might have dreamed of being like Mike, but Juan wanted to be like Reggie, the neighborhood kid who went on to Boston Celtics fame.

And now Jamal wants to be like Juan.

The University of Maryland's celebrated shooting guard, Juan Dixon, is a big part of the reason young basketball players run drills in a little cinder-block gym at Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center.

Dixon, who led the Terrapins to their first national championship Monday in Atlanta, got his start playing on the same polished hardwood where seventh-grade shooting guard Jamal Hood practiced yesterday.

Dixon's game-high 18 points was the focus of the easy banter yesterday of the young players who call the recreation center home.

"He was popping 'em like this," said Alex Campbell, a 13-year-old guard who leaned back on his heels to take - and make - a make-believe jump shot.

"I pretend to be like Juan, too," chirped Joel Gregory, 12, after running sprints on the elementary-sized court.

Anthony Lewis has seen it all before.

Lewis, who runs multiple hoop squads as the center's program director, can reel off, without creasing his forehead, names of former Cecil-Kirk players who went on to live basketball dreams. Reggie Lewis (no relation), the late Boston Celtics swingman. NBA journeyman David Wingate. Georgetown's Kevin Braswell. UNLV point guard Lafonte Johnson.

Their legacy has given a tiny, modest rec center in East Baltimore broad appeal.

"The ones who have achieved mean the most to the kids," said Lewis, who at 47 has spent three-quarters of his life at the center and helped shape Dixon's game during after-school practices between 1992 and 1997.

Dixon's success Monday also translates into keen interest from those looking for a basketball program with a track record.

Otas Asuen telephoned Lewis yesterday from Washington to see if his younger brother, Osayi, might sign up for the coming season.

"He's 16 and plays small forward," Asuen said, inquiring whether the rec center had overnight facilities for his brother, who lives in Elizabeth, N.J.

Lewis said no, the 2002 season is already full. He smiled as he added that, no, the center didn't house its players.

Asuen, who heard about Cecil-Kirk from a story on ESPN-TV, was crushed.

"I wanted [my brother] to play with guys who are more mature, with people who will give him a tough time so he'll become stronger," he said later. "Juan came out of there, and it obviously has the potential to teach younger players."

Lucile Glee, who is known to center regulars as "Grandma," said Lewis influences players who have few predictors of success.

"If you have a boss and role model who is dedicated, it makes you dedicated. He has been a good role model for all of the children," Glee said.

Coach Duty, as he is known, deflects the praise.

For every college admission, for every NBA draft pick, for every teammate who opts to finish school before turning pro, Lewis sees an impressionable ballplayer poised to emulate.

"Our most important goal here is to guide and discipline," Lewis said.

The formula has helped close to 90 percent of Lewis' college-bound players leave school with a degree, he said. Instilling faith in their game - on and off the court - also doesn't hurt.

Dixon is a great example, Lewis said.

"A lot of people didn't think he was gonna make it because he didn't have the meat on his bones," said the coach. "But you can't measure heart by size."

That's good news to Jamal Hood, who looks a lot like a 12-year-old Juan Dixon.

Short, scrawny, with a homemade tattoo where his left bicep should be. Standing 4 feet tall and weighing 50 pounds, he might not be considered an intimidator on the court.

But Dixon's success gives the neighborhood kid hope.

"Size doesn't matter," Hood said, beaming after a long, sweaty practice. "Juan Dixon was killing it [Monday] night."

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