Dixon's will paves the way on NBA road

Hustle impresses Collins as Wizards start preseason

Pro Basketball

October 10, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - If playing in the NBA is like opening gifts on Christmas morning, let's say that Juan Dixon has made it through the pre-holiday buildup to Christmas Eve, the exhibition season.

Perhaps that's why, as the Washington Wizards take the MCI Center court tonight for their exhibition opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, Dixon is eager, but not giddy. After all, Christmas hasn't quite arrived yet.

"I'm going to have fun. That's all I can do. I'm excited," Dixon said. "[Tuesday night's scrimmage] was the first opportunity to play in front of fans on the NBA level. I think I'm going to be even more excited [tonight]. I'm looking forward to it."

As the Wizards broke camp at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington yesterday, Dixon took another step toward proving that there is a place for him in the NBA.

He has continually pleased the coaching staff with his hustle and willingness to learn, not to mention a seemingly indefatigable desire to get better.

"He wants to do so well," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "He comes up to me every day and he says, `Coach, I'm going to do better. I'm going to make that shot.' And I say, `Juan, I know you are. Don't worry about that. Just keep doing what you're doing.' "

What Dixon has been doing is adding point guard skills to his repertoire. At Maryland, where he was a first team All-American and the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year last season, Dixon was rarely called upon to run the offense.

And while Collins has been careful not to assign exclusive ball-handling duties to Dixon, it's clear that the former Calvert Hall star will need to play some point guard to stick around in the NBA.

However, Collins wants Dixon to be smart about how he handles the ball. For instance, Dixon, second all time in steals at Maryland, has had occasional trouble bringing the ball upcourt against the other Wizards' point guards - Chris Whitney, Tyronn Lue and Larry Hughes.

"He wants me to take it easy at times," said Dixon, who had a team-high two steals in Tuesday's intra-squad scrimmage. "I mean, if Ty Lue is playing full-court defense and I'm bringing the ball up the court, he doesn't want me to work as hard. That's just my competitive nature coming out.

"If somebody 5-10 is pushing up on me like that, I'm going to try my best to get my team into its offense, to battle him as much as possible. Those guys have been pushing me all week long, and I'm going to continue to attack them and they're going to continue to attack me. Hopefully, it's going to make us all better."

Said Collins: "I want him to play more efficiently. I don't want to take the intensity or energy away, but I don't want him using up energy in areas that he doesn't have to. Right now, I think he has a tendency to want to fight that pressure off the dribble so much. Our offense is set up where, if he'll throw that ball ahead, he's going to be coming off screens, and that's where he's going to be at his best."

Similarly, Collins is asking Dixon not to try to crash the offensive boards and leave the team without a guard back on defense.

That doesn't mean, however, that the Wizards won't mind Dixon mixing it up every now and then. Toward that end, they have Dixon, who at 6 feet 3 and 164 pounds is relatively small by NBA standards, hitting the weight room regularly, something he didn't do at Maryland.

He has added some mass to his frame, but not at the expense of his quickness, and Dixon said he plans to work with a track coach after the season to add more speed.

"We work our guys to get them stronger," Collins said. "Juan's never going to carry a lot of weight. That's just his body type. I played with Maurice Cheeks [with the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1970s]. Maurice has that same kind of body type. That's just the way he's built. That doesn't mean that he can't get stronger. Juan is working on that."

One thing that Dixon doesn't have to work on is getting over the awe of playing in the NBA or even sharing a backcourt with Michael Jordan, which he will do from time to time this season.

"It has hit me, just being on Michael Jordan's team," Dixon said of playing in the NBA. "I'm not the type to get star-struck, but he's been my role model my whole life. Now, I have the opportunity to play with him and I have to take advantage of that. I'm not going to go, `Wow! I'm on the court with Michael Jordan!' I'm just going to play with him, play along with him and try to win games."

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