In the midst of a rather joyous press conference to announce that the NCAA had cleared guard Michael Dixon to play for the Tigers this season, coach Josh Pastner detoured to a story about Navy Seals.
Seems the University of Memphis coach showed the team a video this summer that chronicled a team of Navy Seals’ rescue of a woman overseas from “bad people.” While the coach was careful to tell media he was in no way equating the mission of the U.S. military with the aims of a college basketball team, he still had a point to make.
“They never said their names,” Pastner said. “They never twittered anything.”
The coach went on to suggest that if people could not worry about receiving credit when they help save a life, it shouldn’t be an issue for basketball players to put the team first.
He is, of course, absolutely right. Which doesn’t mean a thing here in September.
Dixon, a 6-1 combo guard, has one year of eligibility left after transferring from Missouri. I’ve written about his checkered past before, and so have others in town, so let’s move on from that. He has been granted a fresh start and when Pastner gave him the good news this week, Dixon cried.
“A new lease on life,” Pastner said.
Perhaps for all concerned. Dixon gives Pastner four very solid senior guards, as he joins Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford. Pastner has said he will play all four together at times. And that the Tigers will play faster and press more. Which is good to hear.
When the news broke that Dixon had been cleared, basketball “experts” ranging from Dick Vitale to former Duke star Jay Williams went on Twitter to basically put the Memphis backcourt in the same conversation with the backcourts of Louisville, Oklahoma State and UConn.
And guess what? All three are on the Tigers’ schedule, Louisville and UConn twice as American Athletic Conference members. Dixon also would have helped against Michigan State in the NCAAs last season. Not just because he’s a big talent who averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists off the bench for Missouri and was the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year, but because he brings things these Tigers sometimes lack.
For example, on-court leadership and communication. Toughness and relentlessness. Pastner confirmed that in an early workout Dixon and Johnson, a tough customer in his own right, got into it in a competitive way until Dixon showed the cooler head and backed off.
Dixon’s also on pace to graduate in the spring, Pastner said, and has been accountable in all areas. In fact, the longer Pastner talked, the more it sounded like he already has a high level of trust in Dixon on the court and off.
“He’s earned that,” the coach said. “I call him a ‘counter.’ I can count on him to get things done.”
There’s just one, albeit huge, concern from the outside looking in: Will there be enough minutes and scoring opportunities to go around? All four senior guards dream of playing in the NBA. To this point, Dixon probably has the best shot.
“It’s nearly impossible to make the NBA,” Pastner said, speaking generally, but well aware no Tigers were drafted this June.
So, the big question is will one or more members of this talented Memphis backcourt let next season’s personal dream get in the way of this season’s lofty team goals?
“(At Missouri) we knew we had to sacrifice our stats and scoring for the betterment of the team,” Dixon said earlier this summer. “I have the blueprint to that, know what I mean? I’ve done that.”
Yes, he has. Now we wait to see if he can do it again and if others are willing to work the blueprint with him.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.