- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

With about two minutes left in Saturday's convincing victory over Stanford, Maryland guard Juan Dixon was done shooting jump shots. Instead he wanted to shoot the breeze with teammate Lonny Baxter as they sat on the bench.
"He's like, 'Juan, the game ain't over yet,' " Dixon recalled this week, suppressing a laugh to mimic Baxter's serious tone. "We were up by like 12 points. The game wasn't over yet, but I was trying to talk to him. He's like, 'Juan, chill.' I'm like, 'Dang, Lonny, talk to me a little bit, dog. You're having a great game.' "
Baxter was indeed, having scored 24 points. But conversation "wasn't happening," Dixon said. "That's the type of person he is."
Maryland, of course, coasted to victory to earn its first trip to the Final Four, where it plays Duke on Saturday night in Minneapolis. But Baxter wasn't taking any chances against Stanford. His determined, serious, focused nature wouldn't let his attention stray.
That personality has done more than muzzle Baxter on the bench it has keyed his growth into one of the nation's top centers. By concentrating solely on how to improve his strength and skills, the Silver Spring native has overcome a frame listed generously at 6-foot-8 and become a force against far taller opponents.
"It's not that they're just taller; they're bigger than him, too," Terps guard Drew Nicholas said. "[Stanford's] Collins twins [Jason and Jarron] weren't small guys. They probably outweighed Lonny [260 pounds] by a little bit, and they were definitely taller."
Nonetheless, the best basketball of Baxter's junior season has coincided with Maryland's surge from a disappointing 15-9 start. Baxter has scored in double figures 10 times in the past 11 games (starting with the Terps' turnaround win at Wake Forest on Feb. 17), with six of his team-high 10 double-doubles coming during that period.
Last week's work in Anaheim, Calif., was the most impressive. In two victories, Baxter earned West Region MVP honors by scoring 50 points with 20 rebounds.
"He just takes the game with a serious approach," Nicholas said. "He's kind of like our workhorse. He goes in there and gets the job done, however it has to be done."
Baxter acknowledges the comedy in his humorless demeanor. Asked about Dixon's pestering on the bench, Baxter smiled and said of his own seriousness, "That's how you have to be out on the court. You can't take any plays off. You've got to play strong for 40 minutes."
If you last that long. If there's any criticism of Baxter, it's that foul trouble has limited him to 26 minutes a game. But he still averages 15.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, with 16.7 points and 10.5 rebounds in the NCAA and ACC tournaments.
One might say Baxter's no-nonsense approach helps him play so well when the stakes are highest, that tunnel vision blocks out the hype and pressure. Baxter would agree.
"It does [help]," Baxter said. "You just have to take care of the ball on every possession, make the most out of every time you're on the court."
The ability to remain unfazed has impressed and surprised observers since Baxter's freshman season, when he replaced injured senior Obinna Ekezie in mid-February. Baxter finished with averages of 6.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, setting up a sophomore season in which he earned first-team All-ACC honors.
This year Baxter wasn't quite as highly regarded, making only the conference's second team, but his game has improved significantly and still has more upside.
"His offense has really developed," Terps coach Gary Williams said. "He's just scratching the surface. He's going to be a player that can face the basket. He does it quite a bit now in practice. He did it a few times against Stanford, where he put it on the floor and beat his man. He's just starting to get those things [that] a forward has to have."
But Williams is quick to remind Baxter that his fundamental advantage in the college game is being able to score with his back to the basket, despite his height. Comparing Baxter to undersized D.C. legend Adrian Dantley, Williams said, "Not a lot of guys can score with their backs to the basket. So I don't care if he's 6-4. If you can score like an Adrian Dantley-type player, then that's the way you should play."
Baxter also neutralizes size with strength. A rigorous lifting regimen has transformed a freshman frame Dixon laughingly recalls as "flabby."
"Now it's solid," Dixon said. "He's strong as an ox. He's out there dipping that shoulder and landing right in those guys' midsections. It's killing them."
And making Baxter a rather striking embodiment of the strong, silent type. Keeping his mouth shut on the sideline, the undersized pivot continues to outmuscle opponents on the court.
"That's just what I've been doing all my life, playing against bigger, taller people," Baxter said. "It's just playing hard, never giving up."


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