- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2005

Juan Dixon grew up in Baltimore.

He led Maryland to an NCAA title, then played for the Wizards.

After spending his entire life in the area, he signed with Portland last month.

Juan Dixon no longer is the against-all-odds kid, the guy who overcame the drug-induced, AIDS-related deaths of his parents and became a prep superstar in Baltimore.

He is not the undersized, overachieving All-American who took the Maryland Terrapins to two Final Fours and a national championship.

He no longer is a prospect looking to prove he belongs in the NBA.

Instead, Dixon is entering another phase of life, on and off the court.

He married his high-school sweetheart, Robyn Bragg, last month in a lavish ceremony in front of childhood friends, Terps coach Gary Williams and Washington Wizards and Terps teammates Steve Blake and Laron Profit.

The 26-year-old soon will leave the area for the first time and relocate to the Pacific Northwest. He was a productive player for the Wizards the last three seasons, but the team showed little interest in keeping Dixon, perhaps their most popular player, prompting him to accept a three-year, $8million contract from the Portland Trail Blazers.

“I am a man now,” said Dixon, whom the Wizards took with the 17th pick overall in 2002. “I did a lot of growing up. I am about to be on my own, but I have my wife with me. It definitely feels good.”

Dixon visited the Seattle SuperSonics and had substantive talks with the Indiana Pacers, Cleveland Cavaliers and New Jersey Nets. But the Trail Blazers told him there was plenty of available playing time, and the organization’s aggressive attitude sealed the deal.

“They made me one of their top priorities,” Dixon said recently at his basketball camp at Baltimore’s Loyola College. “With other teams, I was like the second or third option. It is good to be the first option.”

Dixon felt like an afterthought with the Wizards after coach Doug Collins and de facto general manager Michael Jordan were fired and president Ernie Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan were hired.

He found himself fighting to get into the rotation and never felt comfortable with his oft-changing role and irregular minutes. Dixon knew he had only a short time left in Washington when the Wizards left him exposed in the expansion draft for the Charlotte Bobcats last summer. Plus, the organization didn’t pick up its $2.1million option for the 2005-06 season when it could have before last season.

But Jarvis Hayes, the Wizards’ backup shooting guard, fractured his right kneecap in early March and missed the rest of the season. That gave Dixon regular minutes and a more defined role.

He established himself as a catalyst off the bench and scored a career-high 35 points as the Wizards won Game4 of their playoff series against the Chicago Bulls.

“When Ernie and Eddie took over, they leaned to a different direction,” said Dixon, who averaged 8.0 points last season. “The first time I felt like I was part of the Wizards’ plans was in the playoffs this year. I felt like they wanted me to be a part of what they were doing in the future.

“It didn’t play out that way this summer. But it gave me the opportunity to show other teams that I am capable of contributing in a big way.”

Meanwhile, the Wizards began stockpiling the backcourt after shooting guard Larry Hughes surprisingly signed with the Cavaliers.

The Wizards traded troubled big man Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for swingman Caron Butler and guard Chucky Atkins. Any slight chance of Dixon’s return disappeared when the Wizards signed free agent Antonio Daniels to a five-year, $30million contract.

“When I was selected, it was a dream come true to be playing for the home team,” said Dixon, who plans to keep his home in Montgomery County as his permanent residence. “I will miss playing for the Wizards, but it’s time to move on. It’s a business. Hopefully things will work out for them.”

The 6-foot-3, 164-pound combo guard has had an unusual workout regimen this summer. While visiting Miami in June, he met some NHL players in the hotel gym and later that day worked out with them on the beach.

The wiry Dixon pulled a weighted sled through the sand in sweltering conditions. He became so intrigued with their techniques to build strength and agility without bulking up too much that he went to Montreal to learn more about the training methods.

He now incorporates those hockey exercises into his daily workout as he eyes a bigger role on the court.

“I just want to go out there and be comfortable,” said Dixon, who felt he was on a short leash here. “I want to be able to play my game on the defensive end like Larry Hughes. Larry Hughes was able to do things I had never seen him do before — get in the passing lanes and become first-team all-defense. He has great instincts and was able to take advantage of that.

“My instincts are similar to Larry’s. He’s a little longer. But if I get in a situation where they just say, ‘Juan, play your game and be smart,’ I will be good.”

The Trail Blazers have a young, fluid roster, one that recently lost stars Shareef Abdur-Raheem and Damon Stoudamire. It includes 6-foot point guard Sebastian Telfair and power forward Zach Randolph and two first-round picks, Georgia Tech point guard Jarrett Jack and 6-7 high-school swingman Martell Webster, the sixth pick overall.

Dixon’s squeaky-clean image no doubt will be a welcome addition to the Trail Blazers, who are better known for off-the-court troubles than winning basketball. He likely will be counted on as a spark off the bench. Coach Nate McMillan sees him playing a similar role to what now-Wizards guard Daniels did last season for Seattle, where McMillan was the coach.

“I know we have a lot of young talent,” said Dixon, who added that the Trail Blazers are in a “rebuilding” phase. “I think we are similar to the Chicago Bulls last year. A lot of people will probably count us out.”

That’s just fine with Dixon, who has lived his whole life as an underdog.

His address soon will change, just like his marital status already has. Dixon got married just two days after cutting the deal with Portland.

“It’s different being married,” said Dixon, who turns 27 on Oct.9. “It’s about time though. She deserves to be a wife. It was a beautiful sight seeing her walk down the aisle. I am glad we got it done.”

And the couple will soon head off into the sunset on the West Coast.

“I love it here,” Dixon said. “I didn’t want to leave. But I guess it’s time for me to go away.”

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