Nick Dixon finds UTRGV a landing spot after bouncing around

Sometimes even Nick Dixon finds it hard to believe all the twists and turns in his path from Chicago’s South Side to UTRGV in the southernmost tip of South Texas.

“Everybody’s got a different story,” said the 6-2 redshirt junior guard, whose Vaqueros (4-8) face off against Lamar (5-4) Friday on ASN. “My story is a little mind-blowing to think about. It’s been a long journey and really humbling.”

His winding path started in Chicago, where Dixon had the game but lacked the grades to play Division I hoops after graduating from Proviso West High School in 2011.

With only junior college offers, Dixon gave up his dream of playing at the next level.

“Coming out of high school I was really cocky,” he said. “I thought I was too good to play in junior college and didn’t have the motivation to play in junior college. I just thought I’d get a job and move on with life.”

Over the next two years, Dixon played pick-up ball from time to time and held about a half-dozen different jobs. He worked in the stock room at a local Target store, sold concessions at the Brookfield Zoo and had temp jobs in a couple different warehouses. Nothing seemed like the right fit.

Then, in 2013, Dixon went with a friend to an open gym tryout at nearby Morton College, an NJCAA Division II school. Dixon showed enough of his natural scoring ability to peak the interest of Morton College coach Conte Stamas.

“I was out of shape, not really playing hard and just going through the motions, but coach Stamas saw something in me and gave me an opportunity to play again,” Dixon said. “I knew I wanted to play basketball again.”

Despite a two-year layoff from competitive basketball, Dixon became a star at Morton College. After averaging 25.2 points per game as a freshman, he led the nation in scoring at 27.2 points a night in his sophomore season. He finished with the second-most points (1,622) in school history and was a two-time NJCAA Division II All-American.

Missouri State, Nevada and Southern Illinois recruited him to play at the D-I level. So did then-UTRGV head coach Dan Hipsher, whose team at the time had another Chicago native in Shaquille Hines. Dixon and Hines had played against each other in high school.

“I wanted to go to a place where I could showcase my talents and also get away from home and be in a warmer climate,” Dixon said. “On my visit I connected instantly with Shaq Hines, who is also from Chicago. I just felt really comfortable here.”

Dixon started last season’s season opener at Miami and played against North Florida but struggled in both outings. He ended up leaving the team for personal reasons having averaged 4.5 points in those two games.

“My grandparents had some health issues, and I wasn’t able to focus on basketball like I wanted to,” Dixon said. “I needed to go home and focus on them. It was tough because I worked so hard to get to that point, but I needed to make the best decision for my family.”

Hipsher was reassigned after last season, but new coach Lew Hill allowed Dixon to rejoin the team after assistant Jai Steadman approached him about returning.

Focused and refreshed, the 23-year-old Dixon has emerged as one of the top players in the WAC. Entering this week he is first in the conference in steals per game (1.8), second in field goal percentage (.574%), third in points (18.4 ppg) and seventh in assists (3.5 apg).

Dixon is also on pace to earn his bachelor’s degree in communications in December of next year. He hopes to become a sports commentator.

“Getting my degree would be another great thing for me because I know a lot of people back home who don’t have a degree,” Dixon said. “Basketball has opened so many doors for me, and I really appreciate the opportunity to play again and get an education.”

Given all Dixon has endured, he has the respect and admiration of his teammates.

“I’m really proud of Nick and happy for him,” said UTRGV sophomore guard Antonio Green. “He’s gone through a lot, and some people can’t handle that, but he’s overcome it all. He’s a great person and a great basketball player.”

According to Dixon, UTRGV is a great place and exactly where he wants to be playing the game he loves.

“I love my teammates and the coaches and teachers here because they’ve welcome me back with open arms,” Dixon said. “It’s the best feeling in the world to be playing basketball again. I’ve come so far and I’m really at a loss for words because I never thought this would happen.”

Photo courtesy Joe Murphy

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