Dixon lifts Terps to title
Senior guard ends long, difficult road with championship
By Eddie Pells
ATLANTA -- Maryland was tumbling. Juan Dixon had disappeared.
Then, swish and swish -- Dixon ripped the nets with two sweet outside shots. Minutes later, he found himself cutting down that very same nylon.
Invisible for much of the game, but front-and-center when it counted most, Dixon was the key to Maryland's 64-52 victory over Indiana in the NCAA title game Monday.
He finished with 18 points and five steals and was selected the game's most outstanding player.
"I feel like I'm dreaming right now, because I'm part of a national championship team," Dixon said. "A lot of people back home counted me out, didn't give me a chance."
Dixon endured so much heartache in his life, losing both parents to AIDS when he was a teen-ager. He heard so many people say this skinny kid couldn't make it at a big school like Maryland.
Maybe that's why a little slump in a basketball game didn't seem like much of a jam. Certainly, he had been through worse in his life.
After a basket by Indiana gave the Hoosiers their first and only lead with 9:52 remaining, Dixon responded by hitting a wide-open 3-pointer to regain the lead.
At his best
Teammate Lonny Baxter followed with two free throws. Indiana cut it to one. Then it was Dixon at his best -- a 16-foot leaning jumper to push the lead to three with 8:11 left. Five minutes later, he got a big rebound and made two free throws, for a 58-49 lead that kept growing as the seconds ticked down.
"It means a lot," Dixon said. "I grew up a lot in college. I've developed as a person, as a basketball player. It's a great feeling."
When the final buzzer sounded, Dixon hurled the ball in the air, then got caught in a sandwich between celebrating teammates Baxter and Tahj Holden.
Later, Dixon was on the ladder, snipping the last cord from the rim, and twirling the net in triumph. He lost his grip, sending the twine spinning toward his teammates -- a forgivable misstep considering the way he played in this tournament.
He scored 27 points or more in four of Maryland's six tournament games, including 33 against Kansas in the semifinals.
In the first half against the Hoosiers, he shot 4-for-4 to keep the Terps in the lead when the rest of his teammates were struggling.
"What hasn't he done throughout his career?" teammate Drew Nicholas said. "You can't expect anything less. He came up with big baskets against Kansas, and you knew it was going to happen again."
Not bad for a 6-foot-3, 165-pound kid who wasn't given a chance when he went from Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore to the University of Maryland in College Park.
Too slight to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the critics said.
Yet simply by earning a scholarship at Maryland, he had proved so many people wrong.
His mother, Juanita, was a heroin user. His father, Phil, also did drugs, and spent part of his life in jail.
Both died when Dixon was in high school, but the teen-ager shunned the streets and used basketball as his refuge.
He has his parents' names tattooed on his left biceps. He taps a tattoo of his mother on his chest each time he steps to the free-throw line. He thought of them when the game was over, the championship secured.
"Yeah, it got a little emotional," he said.
His teammates all looked at him as the leader of this great Maryland moment -- a giant heart, a big-time player, all in a pint-sized package.
"It's not the size of the body," point guard Steve Blake said. "It's the will to want to get open, to want to score. He has that."