Dixon still trying to show he belongs

NBA: The Wizards guard is working hard to prove he can thrive in the pros. After all, he had doubters at Calvert Hall and Maryland, too.

Pro Basketball

October 25, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - About to begin the third season of his NBA career with the Washington Wizards, former Maryland star Juan Dixon is still living in the past. It's not the glory part of winning a championship or being a team's top scorer, it's the other side.

It's the side of Dixon's story that was played out at Calvert Hall and later in College Park. It's the side of his story that was evident during his first two seasons here, playing for two different coaches in two different systems with many different teammates.

"That's my history, to prove myself and having a lot of doubters," Dixon, 26, said last week after a public scrimmage at MCI Center. "I've always had to work for it. I remember when Coach [Gary] Williams offered me the scholarship at the University of Maryland, a lot of people said, `What is he doing?'

"I had to prove those people wrong. I had to show the coaches I was capable of playing on that level. Same thing here."

With a few more pounds of muscle on his skinny 6-foot-3 frame and with renewed confidence in his shooting and ball-handling after a summer of intense workouts, Dixon said this season will be a breakthrough year for him.

Though his role as a backup at both guard positions hasn't changed, Dixon seems hopeful the consistency he shows will translate into more playing time from second-year coach Eddie Jordan.

"This is a big year ... a steppingstone," said Dixon, who averaged 9.4 points in a little under 21 minutes a game last season after scoring 6.4 in 15.4 minutes as a rookie. "You'll really see a big difference this year, I think. I'm not going to let my confidence affect me. I was up and down last year.

"Inconsistency was definitely a problem for me. You have to be ready to play all the time and take advantage of your opportunities."

Jordan is showing Dixon some tough love when it comes to defining his role in playing behind point guard Gilbert Arenas and shooting guard Larry Hughes.

"The NBA is a tough league, it's a tough business, especially if you're coming off the bench," said Jordan, who was both a starter and a reserve during his own seven-year career. "You don't have the margin of error that our starters do; it's just a fact of life in the NBA."

Dixon's role is a little more precarious because, unlike former Maryland teammate and current Wizards teammate Steve Blake, who is a true point guard, and free-agent acquisition Anthony Peeler, who is one of the league's top three-point shooters, Dixon plays more a combination of the two positions.

"He's a scorer, but is he big enough to carry the load?" Jordan said. "We like his energy, we like his defensive presence even though he's smaller. We like a whole lot about him. He's always behind the eight ball in a sense at this level, but he's always proved to be a good player."

Blake doesn't envy the position in which Dixon finds himself.

"I would think it would be more difficult for him to understand his role, because he is a guy that a lot of people said was going to have to play point guard because he wasn't tall enough to be a 2-guard, but he's good enough to do either one," said Blake, who is sidelined after foot surgery. "I think he's catching on to it and being able to do both."

Whether Dixon is in the team's long-range plans remains in question, because the Wizards left him unprotected in last summer's expansion draft and have until Oct. 31 to retain his rights past this season.

Dixon is happy he's still a Wizard rather than a Charlotte Bobcat, and said he doesn't take any of the backroom decisions personally.

"I understand it's a business," Dixon said. "I'm still with the Washington Wizards. I'm proud to be here, and I want to help my team win."

Despite making Dixon available to the Bobcats, Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld seems happy Dixon is still with the team.

"He's got guts, he's not afraid to make the big play and take the big shots," Grunfeld said. "Consistency-wise, he's got to get better, just like all our players. That's common for a young player, but Juan has worked on the consistency of his outside shot. He's worked on his body; he's gotten a little bit stronger. I think he's done what he needs to do to put himself in a position to succeed."

Dixon spent last summer working on his game with longtime trainer Idan Ravin. The two were introduced by another former Maryland star, Steve Francis, during Dixon's sophomore year and have worked together ever since. Ravin, a former attorney who as a player never made it past the high school level, looks at Dixon like a little brother.

"As players get a little more sophisticated, you increase the levels of sophistication of the drills," Ravin said. "As Juan has progressed over his career, it's become a lot more sophisticated ball-handling, a lot more scoring off the catch, things that are catered to the Wizards' offense as well so he learns where he's going to get his scoring opportunities."

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