Photo by Derrick Mahone
Despite playing this season without an ACL, Clayton State guard Keona Dixon is one of the top scorers on the NCAA Div. II Elite Eight-bound team.
MORROW — By some accounts, Keona Dixon shouldn’t be playing this season.
Tell that to the senior guard who’s leading the NCAA Div. II Elite Eight-bound Lakers toward another potential national title run — if not on the stat sheet, definitely by her heart.
Dixon is playing about 15 minutes and averaging 6.6 points per game for the undefeated Lakers who will face Augustana (S.D.) Tuesday in San Antonio.
She’s doing it with a brace on her left knee, and without an ACL. She’s doing it because she has a passion that runs deeper than just playing it safe for the preservation of her knee.
“She just has a love for the game,” Clatyon State coach Dennis Cox said. “She’s just a part of this team’s heart. This time of year, after 30, 32 games, players have been banged up, hit in the head, have hurt muscles, knees and are sore. It goes with the territory.
“She’s just a part of what’s special about our team getting here to this point.”
Except Dixon’s injury took place at the beginning of the year, right when the sharpshooter looked poised to be a special backcourt scoring compliment to Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Drameka Griggs.
She was injured in the Nov. 17 game against Union and missed the next eight contests for the 32-0 Lakers, ranked No. 1 in NCAA’s Division II.
The Lakers would go on to win those games, but it doesn’t mean that her presence wasn’t missed.
“When she returned, I think she hit for like 23 points,” Cox said. “She looked like she hadn’t missed a beat.”
That was Jan. 26 at North Georgia. And it followed up a strong performance just two days earlier when she scored 14 against Young Harris. Since that Young Harris game, Dixon has averaged close to nine points a game, with big scoring outings against Montevallo, where she scored 22.
Dixon has elevated her play during the postseason as well, scoring double figures in back-to-back games against North Georgia in the Peach Belt Tournament championship game, and Mount Olive during the Southeast Regoinal of the NCAA Div. II national tournament.
But according to teammate and fellow senior Shay Jackson, Dixon’s presence is being felt in more ways than just her scoring touch.
“You can tell even with the knee injury, she’s almost back to normal now,” Jackson said. “It’s to where she’s taking people off the dribble again and being effective on the defensive end now.”
Dixon said she does it because she knows she won’t get another chance to win a championship on this basketball stage. Dixon was a redshirt freshman on the 2010-11 national championship team, without the pressures that come with a spot in the starting lineup.
But the soft-spoken Dixon said it is her approach to the game, taught to her by Cox, that keeps her even keeled and focused, even in the midst of a difficult season.
“It’s been hard, but it’s getting better,” Dixon said. “It’s my last year here, and I just want to leave it all on the court. I don’t think things are much different from when I was a redshirt freshman than it is now though. Coach Cox tells us to stay humble and respect every opponent. That’s what I continue to do. That’s what got us here.”