Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Juan Dixon: From Orphan to Star

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Juan Dixon: From Orphan to Star

Article excerpt

There's plenty to watch at this year's NCAA basketball tournament.

Cinderella will be there (she always is). So will the kids from Gonzaga, who have reason to be upset about their low No. 6 seed in the West. Even the real Bob Knight - a hair meaner than the guy portrayed by Brian Dennehy in "A Season on the Brink" on ESPN last weekend - will make a cameo, this time as the coach of Texas Tech.

But for my time, no one deserves more attention than the indomitable shooting guard for the University of Maryland, Juan Dixon. Dixon, a senior, is the best player for the Terrapins, who are the No.1 seed in the East and probably the most talented team in this year's field.

Not only is Dixon chasing a first national championship for Maryland, but he is 36 points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer at his school - an incredible feat for a lightly regarded recruit coming out of Baltimore.

The other top seeds are Duke, Kansas, and Cincinnati, all of whom have their fair share of star players - and reason to believe they can make it to the Final Four in Atlanta March 30. (Duke and Kansas began tournament play last night; Maryland and Cincinnati begin play tonight.)

Defending champion Duke, in particular, seems strong, with its dominant threesome of Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy, and Carlos Boozer firing on all cylinders. On paper, their bracket in the South is the easiest.

Yet, it's hard not to like Maryland's chances, especially when they have Dixon in their backcourt, surrounded by Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, and Byron Mouton.

Dixon's story is well known. His parents were heroin addicts and died from AIDS before he graduated from high school. But his family was not without love. His brother, grandmother, cousins, and aunts raised him the best they could in a tough Baltimore neighborhood. Basketball was his diversion and salvation.

He went to Calvert Hall High School, where he was a 50-percent three-point shooter - a tribute to endless hours spent practicing with his brother Phil, a Division III All-America (and now a cop in Baltimore). In one high school game, against Anacostia, the then- No. 1 team in Washington, D.C., Dixon secured an upset by pouring in an incredible 47 points.

Few top colleges were interested, however, because Dixon, at just 150 pounds, was considered too frail to play with the big boys. But that did not deter Maryland coach Gary Williams, who was in the middle of rebuilding a program that was still hurting from NCAA sanctions and the cocaine-related death of All-American forward Len Bias.

Dixon was redshirted his freshman year, meaning he could practice with the team but not play in games - thus saving a year of eligibility. In his first regular season, he was considered primarily a three-point shooting specialist and got limited playing time as a back up to Steve Francis, who now stars for the NBA's Houston Rockets. …

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