Pittsburgh basketball is built on toughness, physically and mentally. It's about battling every second you are on the court and non-stop hustling.
Jermaine Dixon was destined to play there since birth.
However, this is not a story of growth and development on the court; this is a story of survival off of it.
Growing up in the ghetto of Baltimore, Maryland, Jermaine shared his city with over 60,000 drug addicts. Living with friends, dropping out of school to deal dope, and joining gangs is hard enough to deal with.
But his father, Robert Cooper, showed his true self by leaving when Jermaine was just a baby.
Unfortunately, it only continued to pile on. His mother, Juanita, was a heroin addict. She died at the age of 40 when Jermaine was still a young teen.
Imagine both of your parents are gone and the escape of drugs surrounds you. At least it looked like it was all over.
But the rest of the family was not going to let that happen. They were determined to get Jermaine out of the ghetto and into a better life. He moved in with his grandma, two brothers and sister, but he was still trapped in the unseemly side of Baltimore even with a more stable home.
Jermaine was going to use basketball to get away from it all. He played day and night alongside players who will fall into the drug abyss and never make it out of high school. They played on decaying courts but they were playing and that was all he cared about.
"I was pretty tough on all of them," his brother Phil said. "I tried to teach them that if you work hard every day, good things will happen."
"It wasn't easy on any of us, but I have no regrets. Look how they turned out."
They have never stopped looking out for each other. As soon as older brother Juan Dixon finished at Maryland, ending his career as the all-time leading scorer for the Terps and leading them to the 2002 National Championship, he became the 17th pick in the NBA draft by the Washington Wizards.
One of the first things he did after signing his contract was invite Jermaine to come live with him. This was the first time Jermaine had lived outside of the Baltimore 'hood and everything looked like it was going to work out.
His brother, Phil, became a cop in Baltimore to try and protect kids just like him and is a children’s basketball coach at the Towanda Center. Their aunt became the mayor of Baltimore, and Jermaine was back in school playing basketball.
However, he still was not getting any offers from schools. He played in a system that hid him and his grades were down. Instead, he had to settle with attending a JUCO.
In two years, he averaged 20.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. On top of that, he was the team’s best defender.
Dixon was rated the No. 8 JUCO player in the country by Rivals.com. Pittsburgh Associate Head Coach Tom Herrion finally noticed the JUCO All-American and got him to sign an LOI shortly after contacting him.
He has proved his worth ever since then. He averaged 8 points, 2 assists, and 2.6 rebounds his first season. Most importantly, he was their lock-down defender. When Syracuse paid a visit to the Oakland Zoo, Dixon held Jonny Flynn to 3 of 14 shooting and 0 for 5 from three-point range.
If only his dad could see him now.
They reached out to him a few years ago, but he denies even being the father, despite a paternity test showing otherwise. But Jermaine proved that he is a bigger man then Robert will ever be.
"I'd talk to him," Jermaine Dixon said, when asked if he would ever speak to his dead beat dad. "I won't go looking for him, but I'd listen to what he had to say."
I would say Pitt is in good hands.