Cincinnati guard Dion Dixon struggled through a rough sophomore campaign, but after an off season spent in the gym working on his game, he is ready to make an impact in his junior campaign.
Dixon had a promising freshman year in a Bearcats uniform averaging 7.3 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, but the shooting guard saw his minutes reduced a year later when Deonta Vaughn moved back to the 2 spot with the return of Cashmere Wright from an ACL tear.
Once the season ended with a NIT loss to Dayton, Dixon realized he had to get to work if he wanted his college career to be a success.
“Basically right after last season,” Dixon said. “This is my junior year so it's do or die now so I went hard all summer to get ready for it.”
Head coach Mick Cronin spent a lot of time talking to Dixon after the season about what he needed to do to take his game to the next level, and the Chicago native took those meetings to heart.
“We talked about what he was going to have to do to become a really good college basketball player and to give himself a chance to play beyond the college level,” said Cronin. “He's taken everything we've asked him to do and he's gone over and above his commitment.”
Like most 19 and 20 year old college students, Dixon had a lot of growing up to do when he arrived on campus. Those growing pains were evident last season as he struggled with his diminished role, and it resulted in trying to produce 30 minutes of results in 10 minutes of action.
“When I got in I was pressing a little bit, trying to make something happen so I could stay out there,” Dixon said. “I really didn't have my confidence like I had my freshman year, so I'm trying to get that back this year.”
While that resulted in Cronin getting frustrated with him at times, the coach knew he was still dealing with a young guy that had time left to figure it all out.
“Sometimes it takes two years to get a player where you need him to be mentally and physically. It takes guys struggling sometimes to believe they do need help realizing the stuff they did in high school isn't going to work in college.”
The off season work put in by Dixon has not gone unnoticed by his coach, and from what Cronin has seen so far, he thinks big things are now in store.
“He's just taken his game seriously and he's grown up a lot,” Cronin said. “He's a different person, I mean he's literally like coaching a different person. He's a much better player because of it and I'm happy for him because he's a great kid. Now he's going to get a chance to really have a great two years here because of his maturity level.”
While back in Chicago on summer break, Dixon spent some time working out with NBA stars Dwyane Wade and Gilbert Arenas among others, and the three times a day trips to the gym opened his eyes to the type of work needed to improve his game.
“A lot of skill work and individual work. We lifted weights and then open run to showcase your talent,” said Dixon. “It helped me a lot because they work real hard, and I see how hard I've got to work. I was just like man I got a long way to go.”
Cronin didn't know much about the time in Chicago, but he did know Dixon was working extremely hard when he was on campus.
“He wasn't home that long,” said Cronin. “What I know is when he was here, which was 80% of the summer, he was in the gym all day and night driving the maintenance staff around here nuts. When you've got a guy doing that on his own you know you've got a dedicated guy that's really trying to make himself better.”
Dixon and junior classmate Yancy Gates have both stepped up to the plate this off-season, and the two close friends have talked a lot about making the jump from underclassmen to leaders. When it comes to this season Gates feels they are on the same page.
“Me and Dion came in together and we got real close on and off the court,” Gates said. “It's the same with the other guys, but we came in the same class and had a lot of classes together. It was leave the room and go to class together and then leave that class and we've got the same lift time so we spent a lot of time together. We talk a lot and we both feel the same way. We're just both willing to do whatever it takes to win.”
Dixon remembers those talks, and with the summer of hard work in the rear view, he is ready to put his hard work on display
“After last year we really sat down and talked and said we've got to get this going. It's getting late and we've got to work hard and everybody will follow our lead.”