NEW YORK - Juan Dixon got the last laugh again.
In the days preceding last night's NBA draft at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden, Dixon's name kept sliding on mock draft lists. Some even had the 6-foot-3 guard from Calvert Hall and the top scorer in the history of the University of Maryland falling into the second round. Word was the undersized shooting guard might not be worth a first-round gamble because of his unproven point guard skills.
But there was Dixon last night, bouncing onto the big stage to shake hands with NBA commissioner David Stern, just after the Washington Wizards made Dixon the 17th pick.
"Besides winning the national championship, this is the best day of my life," Dixon said. "I dreamt about this for so long. I had so many doubters on each level."
Two of Dixon's teammates at Maryland also were drafted, with the Los Angeles Clippers selecting Chris Wilcox with the eighth pick, and the Chicago Bulls taking Lonny Baxter in the second round with the 44th choice.
It marked yet another triumphant moment for Dixon, who rose from relative obscurity as a redshirt freshman at Maryland to lead the Terps to back-to-back Final Four appearances, culminating in their first national title in April.
"This player is what we want to become, in terms of a guy who has overcome a lot of odds," Wizards assistant general manager Rod Higgins said. "He's a guy that obviously did a special job in taking his team to the championship. And the person is probably better than that. All these things being equal, it was a no-brainer for us."
Dixon, who just missed being a lottery pick by four slots, will begin his pro career close to home, and will receive a guaranteed, three-year contract worth about $3.2 million.
"It's good to be home. My whole basketball career has been in the Maryland-D.C. area. It's good having people around me," he said. "I had a great situation at Maryland and now I have the same with the Wizards. I'm going to take advantage of it, continue to work hard and keep the work ethic that got me here."
Said Dixon's aunt, City Council president Sheila Dixon: "All I can do is praise God. [Juan's] inner determination has made him strong so now he can play professional ball. I'm extremely proud of him. He still has his foundation close to his family."
The Wizards gave themselves a chance to grab Dixon after swinging a trade that sent guard Courtney Alexander to the New Orleans Hornets. In Dixon, Washington gets a first-team All-American and the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year who averaged 20.4 points as a senior and set a school scoring record with 2,269 career points.
Dixon also had a way of making clutch shots. As a senior, he led Maryland in scoring in five of six NCAA tournament victories, averaging 25.8 points. He went on to earn Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four.
After backing up former Terp and current Houston Rockets star Steve Francis four years ago, Dixon went on to become the first three-time, first-team All-ACC Maryland player since John Lucas 26 years ago.
"I experienced a lot at Maryland. I was a cheerleader my first year, I was a role player in my second year and I got a lot of minutes in my last three years," Dixon said. "I stayed focused and stayed hungry. My goal is to help the Wizards win a lot of games and help them make the playoffs. How good is it to have a teacher like Michael Jordan? I think I can have an impact right away."
Said Wizards coach Doug Collins: "People say he's too small, and he won the national championship. I love that. I don't want to blow this out, but he has a Michael Jordan-sized heart. He wants the ball when the game counts. He wants that shot.
"Our phone has rang already wanting to know if we want to trade him. Twice."
Sun staff writers Milton Kent and Alex Koustenis contributed to this article.