CHICAGO — The 31 points in Wednesday’s home opener were no anomaly for UIC sophomore Dikembe Dixson. However, the 10-of-18 shooting was.
Dixson, last year’s Horizon League Freshman of the Year, is known around the conference as high-powered scorer. But the 6’7″ forward also developed a reputation as a chucker, shooting just shy of 37% from the field a season ago.
The bulk of his offseason’s work focused on becoming more efficient on both sides of the ball, and the payoff was evident in Wednesday’s 86-78 win against UTSA..
“What he’s learning to understand is you can get 30 any time you want if you’ll get fouled and you’ll take good shots,” coach Steve McClain said. “And I thought he really took good shots. I thought the only three he missed was the only bad three he took, and that was in the first half. I think he’s learning to adjust to that.”
The learning did not come easy for Dixson, and he remains a tough critic. He shot 10-of-15 at the foul line and was dissatisfied with the five misses.
“I didn’t even go home this summer,” Dixson said. “I stayed, I did summer classes. A lot of hours. Every day I was in the gym or weights. So it’s paying off, but I didn’t do that good today at the free throw line.”
Dixson had an average performance in last week’s season opener at San Francisco. He scored a team-high 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Although UIC was defeated 82-80, a balanced scoring effort by the Flames helped them stay close through the final buzzer despite Dixson’s underwhelming season debut.
“During the summer, coach told me that I have to be efficient,” Dixson said after Wednesday’s game. “So I try to practice shooting, not shooting as much, so when I do miss it’s not, like, a big impact. But my teammates was helping me out tonight, finding me in the right spots. So credit to them.”
With Wednesday’s outburst, Dixson has now scored more than 20 points in five straight home games. The 6’7″ wing made a major impact defensively as well with a career-high five steals. Forcing turnovers also helped him get out in transition and rack up three powerful dunks.
“A year ago he would stick out on the defensive end,” McClain said. “As he gets better defensively, that just makes us that much better.”
Last season, Dixson posted a 106.4 defensive rating, which ranked just fifth on the Flames’ roster despite his athleticism and length.
“[Defense] was definitely a big thing coach talked about because last year,” Dixson said. “So he was just telling me with my length I should be getting steals. So in practice, I just practice. I just practice and practice. And it carries on over to the game.”
In barely more than one season, Dixson is already one of the more accomplished players in UIC history. He broke the Horizon League freshman scoring record, was a preseason all-conference first team selection as a sophomore, and is now on pace to crack 1,000 career points this winter.
If the Dikembe Dixson that missed the vast majority of his shots played and average defense was already an all-conference selection, who knows what the ceiling is for a Dikembe Dixson that has greatly improved upon those two weaknesses.