- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Juan Dixon glanced up at the Cole Field House rafters and watched as he was honored as one of the greatest basketball players ever at the University of Maryland. The slight senior who arrived in College Park as a maligned recruit got choked up as a banner with his name and number was unfurled.
Dixon on Sunday joined an exclusive Terrapins club. Its 14 members include such standouts as John Lucas, Len Bias and Joe Smith.
"I thought about it," said Dixon, who fought back the tears in the pregame ceremony. "A lot of people thought it was a long shot for me to make it here. But I proved myself."
Time and time again.
"Proving himself" has been the regular mantra for the 6-foot-3, 164-pound Dixon, who was not expected to become a contributor in an elite league like the ACC. The slight superstar not only proved worthy of the conference, he left an indelible mark. Last week, he became the only player in NCAA history to have at least 2,000 points, 300 steals and 200 3-pointers in a career.
Last season, Dixon helped lead the Terps to their first Final Four and may be driving them toward a repeat trip. The slender sniper has been the catalyst for second-ranked Maryland, and his statistics and clutch performances suggest he will be Maryland's first first-team All-American since Smith in 1995.
"I don't say a lot of pretty things about my players or blow smoke about them," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has grown accustomed to Dixon's primetime deliveries. "It's really ridiculous. He gets on the [foul] line and you just figure, 'Well, he is going to make them.' You go to a situation where you're up five instead of three. You talk to the players on the sideline, 'OK, we have a five-point lead now.' He hasn't shot a free throw."
Dixon leads the ACC in free-throw shooting percentage (90.7) and could become only the third league player to finish a season better than 90 percent. However, that is just one small part of his all-around package. The Baltimore bomber has 2,033 points in his career and is on pace to become Maryland's all-time scoring leader as he trails only Bias (2,149 points from 1983 to '86) and Albert King (2,058, 1978-81). Dixon, averaging 19.2 points this season, already has set a team-record with 210 3-pointers in his career.
Dixon also is within striking distance of becoming the ACC's all-time leader in steals, and needs 29 thefts to surpass league leader and ex-Terp Johnny Rhodes, who had 344 from 1993 to '96. But for all his statistics and records, Dixon will be remembered for his big-game performances and clutch plays when the game is in the balance torching Duke for 31 points in a landmark upset in Cameron Indoor Stadium as a sophomore and pulling off a similar feat last season in Durham.
"I love Juan Dixon," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Juan Dixon over the last four years has been one of the truly remarkable players in our conference. He's a warrior. He's a big-time player. I love the way he plays and competes."
He has had countless stellar games, but one series at Georgia Tech this season embodied why this undersized predator is so lethal. The Terps were struggling and the Yellow Jackets were sensing an upset. Georgia Tech point guard Tony Akins had a phenomenal game and was bringing the ball up court with his team down by two with just more than a minute remaining.
Dixon noticed the left-handed Akins dribbling with his right hand, and sneaked behind and out of the guard's sight as he brought the ball up the court. As soon as Akins switched hands on the dribble, Dixon stole the ball. Dixon then lofted a high-risk, 35-foot alley-oop to Chris Wilcox, who assured the Terps' win with a slam.
"We got beat by a great player who makes great plays in a lot of different ways," said Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt, after watching Dixon total 26 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. "If Juan Dixon is not making a 3, he is making a great pass, or at the other end, it was him that made the steal."
The master thief studies film to learn opponent's ballhanding and passing tendencies for the right time to go for the takeaway. It is just part of his vast repertoire that includes timely 3s, game-winning free throws and backbreaking assists.
"It seems like when it gets tough, Juan just really picks up his game," Williams said. "It's not just his offense, but I think he is really one of the best players I have ever coached in terms of anticipating passes and being able to get into passing lanes and playing defensive situations where he knows what we need to do to disrupt the other team."
Dixon has increased his leadership role in his senior season, keeping teammates in line and focused. The opinionated guard is a constant talker, who is comfortable razzing teammates and challenging them. The unfazed leader even gives his coach strategic advice. In the days leading up to Maryland's 87-73 blowout of then-top-ranked Duke on Feb. 17, Dixon suggested that Wilcox cover Mike Dunleavy, who had scored 19 second-half points in Duke's win in January. Wilcox responded with a career-high 23 points and made Dunleavy a non-factor.
"I'm not going to take credit, but I said why don't we give Chris a try," said Dixon, with a sly grin.
He may give an occasional fiery speech, but it is Dixon's body-sacrificing style that usually sets the tone.
"When I create turnovers or make shots, I can see my teammates are feeding off of me," he said. "I want to take that responsibility. If I have a night when I don't make shots, I'll take the criticism. I don't mind it at all. That's how you become a better player."
Basketball is not just a game to Dixon, but a way of life. It helped him through the tragic times when, while he was in high school, both his parents died of AIDS because of drug use. Few, if any, of the other 13 players who had their number raised to the Cole rafters had to overcome such dire circumstances.
"I saw some kids in Juan's situation that did not make it," said Williams, who began his career as a high school teacher and coach working with inner-city kids in Camden, N.J. "It comes from a brother that he has like Phil [now a Baltimore policeman], and from Juan being tough enough to realize that even though he is in a tough situation, he still has a chance. … There's just something inside some people that allows them to rise above whatever adversity is there. Juan is one of those people."
Dixon is not only at the end of a sensational career, but also is completing his degree and becoming only the second member of his family, along with Phil, to graduate from college. The family studies major could earn his diploma as early as this summer.
A cap-and-gown as well as a job in the NBA are in Dixon's short-range plans. He already has heard the nay-sayers point out that he can't make it at the next level because he's too small to play shooting guard or doesn't handle the ball well enough to play the point.
Not surprisingly, he is motivated by the doubts.
"Once again people are counting me out, saying I can't play point guard at the next level," said Dixon, who plays his final game in College Park Sunday against Virginia. "If I get my shot, I'll show a lot people I'm capable of running a team … A lot of people probably didn't think I could score 500 points in the ACC."
One look upward at Cole Field House shows he's done a lot more than that.


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