Newcomers supply spark, optimism

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CINCINNATI -- Three significant newcomers took the Fifth Third Arena floor during the Bearcats 89-57 exhibition victory against Carleton State.


Redshirt freshman Sean Kilpatrick came as delivered. He unveiled the "10 points in his sleep" style of basketball Mick Cronin predicted. Actually, Kilpatrick netted 16, "and I don't know how he got them," Cronin said. "That's how it is with him."


Freshman Justin Jackson played as those who saw him in high school expected, in that he scared most everyone sitting courtside with his intensity.


This was exhibition No. 1 against a team from Canada and Jackson battled with the energy of a Final Four. With resounding blocks, intimidating scowls, suffocating pressure, crisp passes and nearly impaling the face of a Carleton forward, Jackson accomplished a bit of everything.


He may be the first player in history to receive a standing ovation exiting with four points.


"He's going to affect the game in different ways," Cronin said. "He doesn't have to score to be effective out there."


The third newcomer came as a surprise, though. Nobody knew he was a newcomer until he took the floor Monday night. But he did breathe fresh air into Fifth Third Arena.


We'll call him Dion Dixon 2.0.


The last memorable moment of Dixon 1.0 was of a basketball bouncing off his leg and out of bounds at Madison Square Garden.


That player didn't show up Monday. Who this new guy was, I'm not quite sure. He attacked the lane with a purpose, he dished with precision.


When the Bearcats struggled to score early in the game, Dixon pulled up for a jumper, worked for a layup and turned a steal into two points.


In search of momentum entering the locker room, he placed the perfect pass to Yancy Gates for an alley-oop exclamation point to a 10-point lead.


Eight times Dixon fired more than eight shots last season. Only twice was his field goal percentage better than 50 percent.


He knocked down six of his 12 shots on Monday.


"It felt really different," said Dixon, who finished with 19 points, 3 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. "Because I am older and more mature and I know how to handle the situations a little different. I am getting a little bit more run than I did last year. Confident with everything I am doing. I am trying to stay aggressive. It feels good, really."


One strong game against a team where two starters look like Justin Bieber doesn't predicate a season of success. In fact, it should probably be discarded with the same ease with which the Ravens were.


The beautiful news for the Bearcats was this wasn't just one game.


"What you saw tonight we've seen every day," Cronin said.


Some days, the coaches didn't see it. Only the janitors spent more time in Fifth Third Arena by themselves. Dixon dedicated himself to reinventing himself.


The sophomore campaign wore on Dixon. Lance Stephenson arrived and sapped his minutes. Confidence rarely develops in the shadows.


"He had a tough year last year," Cronin said.


Dixon broke out of those shadows this summer when he played in his hometown of Chicago against such NBA names as Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas and Devin Harris. They worked out three times a day and the veterans passed on tips and advice for how to excel on the college level.


The lessons didn't always come in easy to use fashion, but were lessons nonetheless.  


"First time (we played) they just treated me like a little boy," Dixon said. "I did all right; I held my own. I got the hang of it after a while."


By early returns this season, he's got the hang of what it takes to succeed in major Division I basketball, as well.


"You got to give him credit," Cronin said. "He had a tough year last year. We talk a lot about if things don't go your way in life you can pack up and go home or you can dig in and fight and get what you want out of life and your experience as a college player. He's been unbelievable."


Call it maturity. Call it an awakening. Just call it a beautiful development for the Bearcats. 


Viewed from the perspective of a team with a significant question mark at shooting guard his progression arrived right on time. Starters return at every other position, but now departed Deonta Vaughn and Stephenson were weapons from the wing.


The losses begged what will ultimately be the defining question of this team in 2010-11: Where will the points come from?


For one night, Dixon provided the answer.


"I know if we can continue to score the ball we are going to win a lot of games," Cronin said. "Because we are going to play defense and we are going to rebound. To have a good team you have to develop some guys that can consistently put the ball in the basket. So, he's been that kind of guy for us."

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