On college athletic teams, freshmen have a variety of roles.
One day, the new kids may be seen carrying seniors bags to and from practice. Another day, the freshkids may be entertaining the rest of the team with a song and dance in the locker room. Whatever the task may be, its all about earning your wings, or in Mizzou's Michael Dixon Jr.'s case, his stripes.
Wednesday night at the Scott Trade Center in St Louis, Dixon Jr. played the role of elf, delivering an early Christmas present to Tiger fans everywhere. But instead of riding around on holiday inspired reindeer, Dixon Jr. resembled a cheetah on the floor, running Mizzou's high tempo style of play to perfection. The freshman from Kansas City saw himself in the starting line-up for the second consecutive time and fifth time this year.
Familiar on the west side of the state, Dixon Jr. did not disappoint fans in the Gateway City.
Dixon poured in 16 points, a career high, and dished out five presents to MU teammates. He had three steals in the contest, a game high. Dixon Jr. did all this despite turning the ball over once.
The manner in which Dixon put on his Christmas special should have Tiger fans Jingle Bell Rockin from St Louis to Columbia. Late in the second half, the Illini cut the Mizzou lead to single digits, often times bringing the deficit to five or six points.
With approximately seven minutes left in the game, Dixon Jr. caught a pass streaking down the outside of the lane and converted the layup, all the while earning an 'And 1" from the Illinois defender. The freshman stepped up and calmly knocked down the free throw to offset any Illini momentum.
The next time down the court, Dixon Jr. nailed a three pointer from the North Pole to put the game further out of reach. With senior Zaire Taylor limited to just three minutes because of flu-like symptoms, Dixon Jr. answered the call.
Dixon Jr. has impressed like this before, but in front of a 20,000-plus sold out crowd. Not in front of a national television audience. Not against a Big Ten caliber opponent. It was great to see him drop 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals last Saturday. But against Arkansas-Pine Bluff? Out of the MONC (Middle of Nowhere Conference)?
It was even better to see him do all that in a close game, one that had the feeling of a conference, if not NCAA, tournament game.
Dixon Jr's on-court demeanor is starting to say something about this corn-rowed point guard from Lee's Summit. He's saying "I Belong." He's saying "Bring on the Big XII." Call it youthful ignorance, call it performance confidence, call it whatever you want, but Mizzou fans have to like it.
With conference play around the corner, the experience Dixon Jr gained on the neutral floor of Scott Trade on Wednesday will pay off huge dividends for Coach Mike Anderson. The rugged environments of Bramlage Collisium at K-State, United Spirit Arena at Texas Tech or Lloyd Noble Center at the University of Oklahoma will be far more intense than that of the neutral floor Wednesday, but it was extremely encouraging to see the young point guard perform at a high level away from Mizzou Arena.
As a matter of fact, it was a pleasant surprise that the entire MU team showed up despite the game being away from Mizzou Arena. The Tigers finally got back to basics on the road, forcing Illinois into 22 turnovers and a lackluster 39.7 percent shooting, their second worst of the season.
At the other end, MU went 15-17 from the charity stripe while sinking 40 percent of their attempts from three point land.
As CMA's sleigh departs St Louis, he can be confident that his newest elf will be ready for the holidays.