Dion Dixon's Summer Vocation

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If you want to know why Dion Dixon appears to be vastly improved this season, don't ask head coach Mick Cronin - talk to the janitors, team managers, and equipment room guys at UC.


They can tell you what Dixon was doing this summer.


"I've got a key card for the Lindner Center and I would go around bugging the managers and everybody else about letting me into the gym," Dixon told me.  "I would come in at 7 o'clock in the morning and then sometimes come back later at night around 11:00 or 12:00.  Sometimes I would be by myself and sometimes (Ibrahima) Thomas or other guys would come with me, but mostly I was by myself.


"I came here all of the time on my own to shoot and do ball handling stuff to try to get better for the upcoming season.  It's paying off right now, so I'm going to keep it up."



Dixon scored a career-high 20 points in only 22 minutes of playing time in the Bearcats' 68-34 rout of Dayton on Saturday.  Through five games, the junior guard is averaging 11.2 points to share the team lead with Yancy Gates.


"The only thing with Dion is that I've got to stay on him," Coach Cronin said.  "He's a good kid, but he's almost too nice of a guy.  He's got to stay hungry.  He had his career high vs. Dayton, but my challenge to him is to break that (tonight).  He can't rest on his laurels.  Although he's improved, he still hasn't reached the pinnacle of where his talent can take him."


Although the season is only two weeks old, Dixon appears to be a much-improved outside shooter.  After shooting 35% overall and a dismal 22% from 3-point range last year, his percentages have climbed to 48% overall and 39% from beyond the arc.


"I spent a lot of time shooting this summer because I didn't shoot very well last year," Dixon said.  "I know I'm a better shooter than I showed last year.  I also did a lot of ball handling drills because that turnover kind of got to me."


Dion Dixon anguish re.JPG 

Ah yes, "that turnover."  I didn't have to bring up Dixon's critical gaffe against West Virginia in the Big East Tournament - it's been on his mind for the last nine months. 


"That was in my head all summer, so I tried to work on it so that if I'm in that position again, I'll know how to handle it," Dixon said.  "That's part of growing up and maturing - you know what your strengths and weaknesses are." 


Mick Cronin met with all of his returning players after last season to discuss what they needed to do to improve.  The rest was up to each individual.


"People don't realize how limited coaches are in what he can actually require guys to do," Mick told me.  "During the season, we get 20 hours a week with our team and that includes on the court, the weight room, eating - that's not a lot of time.  In the off-season, we're relegated to two hours a week on the court during school, and when school is out, you're not allowed in the gym with them period.  Maturity is required of a young player to really develop and be committed to get into the gym and do the things that the coaches have worked with you on during the season.  You're talking about three months out of the year where you're not allowed to work with your players.  Dion showed tremendous commitment this summer and it's been evident since the first day of practice."


* * * * *


It didn't get much attention, but NBA rookie Lance Stephenson and his parents were in attendance at Fifth Third Arena on the night before Thanksgiving when the Bearcats beat Savannah State.



"He is in tremendous shape," Coach Cronin said.  "He does everything with the Indiana Pacers right now but get playing time.  He's young - he just turned 20 years old - and his best basketball is ahead of him.  He's got to stay positive and try to continue to improve.  It's all about what he becomes as a player three or four years from now.  It's a tough experience for him to not get to play in games.  He seemed to be in a good frame of mind and I'm glad that his family is with him in Indianapolis.  They're a great family and they are very, very close.  And his little brother is going to be a great player some day.  He can already handle the ball better than any other 4-year-old in the world."


Stephenson UC.jpg 

While the Bearcats obviously would have welcomed Stephenson back for his sophomore season, his one-and-done year in Clifton is playing dividends on the recruiting trail.


"When I go into a gym now in Brooklyn since Lance has been with us and is now in the NBA, it's amazing - I feel like a Hall of Fame coach," Coach Cronin told me.  "I walk in and people go, 'There's Lance's coach . . . Mick Cronin is here.'  It has nothing to do with me - it's because I was Lance's coach.  It's hard to understand how big of a star that Lance really was on the playgrounds of Brooklyn, NY unless you're there."


Not a bad place for a college coach to be popular right? 


"It's a very good place to be popular," Mick said.  "Obviously (recently signed recruit) Jermaine Sanders from Far Rockaway, Queens is coming to Cincinnati and he's going to be a tremendous player for us.  As you can imagine, there are still a lot of good young players in Brooklyn that we're recruiting right now for the future."


* * * * *


Several of you have e-mailed to ask what I think about the addition of TCU to the Big East.


It was a no-brainer. 


It instantly quiets critics that say that the league doesn't deserve its BCS status (even though TCU will not be a member until 2012), makes scheduling easier by having 9 football playing members, adds a major television market, and makes the league less-susceptible to being poached by another conference looking to expand.


Now convince Notre Dame to be a football-playing member too.


Yea, I've heard all of the arguments for why it's never going to happen, but I'm convinced that it could be as good for the Fighting Irish as it is for the league in general. 


As I've written before, the key is to do whatever is financially necessary to get Notre Dame to play football - even if it's a ridiculously one-sided deal.


Notre Dame wants to remain an independent in football, but has to have a conference for its other athletic teams.  The Fighting Irish could join the Big 10, but there's no way they would get a sweetheart deal from Ohio State, Michigan, etc.


So do whatever it takes:  Allow the Irish to keep a bigger chunk of the TV and bowl money (they already do anyway) . . . form the Notre Dame/Big East TV network . . . move the league offices to South Bend . . . make Catholicism the official religion of the Big East . . . you get the picture.


Notre Dame's official colors are gold and blue.


But the school has been known to like green too.


I'd love to hear from you.  Please take a moment to tell me who you are and where you're from in the comments section or you can e-mail me at dhoard@pawsox.com.


And if you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

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