By JOHN SLEEPER
University of Washington forward Will Perkins has this dream for David Dixon.
Dixon, Washington’s junior starting center, angrily stakes out position on the low block, gathers in an entry pass from Perkins, rolls, elevates over the opposing center and slams.
Backboard shakes. Crowd goes nuts. High-fives all around.
At 6 feet 11, 290 pounds, Dixon isn’t there yet. But as he has shown in spurts during the first four games of the Huskies’ season, he’s a lot closer than he was last season.
“If he wants to get after it, David can be one of the better centers in the league,” Perkins said. “He’s big enough. He has a wide body. You get him on the block and he posts up hard, you can give it to him all night.”
The question is whether Dixon, indeed, wants to get after it. Highly touted when recruited out of Tyler (Texas) Junior College as a defender, shot-blocker and intimidator, Dixon waddled and jiggled onto the UW campus in hideous physical condition. Some reports had him as heavy as 330 pounds or higher.
It was a blow the Huskies simply couldn’t absorb. Coach Bob Bender had counted on Dixon to fill some of the void left by Todd MacCulloch, who now plays for pay for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Dixon became the object of scorn by fans and of derision by the press. What could he be thinking, the reasoning went. Kid gets a scholarship to college to play basketball and shows up looking like the Michelin Man.
“He’s had about as much scrutiny as any player that I’ve ever coached and that I’ve ever been around. But he never made excuses. In his lifetime, that’ll be an experience that he’ll gain from. He’s fighting back this year and trying to prove that he belongs here.”
Dixon’s startling weight expansion made shambles of the UW’s rotation. With Dixon watching from the bench, bigger teams routinely overpowered Washington’s smaller, physically weaker front line.
Dixon played little last season. Wasted a year, really, just trying to get into within a state line of playing shape. And Washington, after two straight NCAA Tournament appearances drained to 10-20.
“It was real difficult,” Dixon said. “I was frustrated a lot of the time. I wanted to play. I wasn’t getting the minutes. But I knew that it was my fault, also. I knew I had to come in here more in shape and more ready to play.”
This season, however, he’s showing signs of what he can do.
After struggling for 2 1/2 games, Dixon was one of the bright spots last week in a victory over Portland State. Although ineffective in four minutes of playing time in the first half, a more fired-up Dixon was one reason the Huskies blew out the Vikings in the second.
Suddenly, he was hustling after rebounds. Posting up. Scoring. Blocking shots.
The lumbering manner of his walk was gone. He was running – RUNNING – downcourt, more than eager to mix it up.
“He did things with explosiveness,” Bender said. “He’s in better shape and he’s doing things more like an athlete. He went to the basket to finish the first time he caught it. He did little things, like taking a jump shot in rhythm. Nothing thought out, nothing lethargic.”
Dixon finished with six points and five rebounds. He looked far from the player whose prodigious weight prevented him from leaping for inside shots and rebounds, from getting decent position in the post, from even catching the ball.
And although Dixon isn’t where he wants to be in terms of conditioning and performance, he feels closer now than ever before.
“I’m in better shape,” Dixon said. “I’m not in the best shape, but I know I can play better than what I did last year. I can do more things than I used to do.”
Dixon will never average 25 points a game, but scoring was never his game before he came to Washington. Still, any offensive production the Huskies get from Dixon and backup Marlon Shelton is something Washington needs, and Dixon knows it.
“I know I have to take more initiative and score on the offensive end,” Dixon said. “I was mostly looking to screen somebody to get somebody else open, to play team ball. But I know that it’s also team ball if they can look to me to score, also.”
But first things first. Bender’s thought was that Portland State was a launching point. Yes, Dixon will struggle at times, but the bright spots will increase in direct proportion with Dixon’s confidence level.
“I just wanted to play like I know how to play,” Dixon said following the Portland State game. “I wanted to prove to myself that I can still play.”
When he proves it to himself, the doubters figure to follow suit.
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