COLUMBIA - Mike Dixon Jr. should have known his place.
Before even playing in a game for Missouri, Dixon had the nerve to take – and make – four game-winning shots in his first set of pick-up games with his future teammates.
“I’m thinking he’s supposed to know that it’s supposed to be my (time),” senior Zaire Taylor said, laughing. “That’s what I’d do when I first got here. I would defer a little bit. But he had that confidence and he actually stood up and knocked those shots down.”
Coach Mike Anderson had enough confidence in Dixon to replace Taylor with the freshman from Kansas City in the starting lineup for Missouri’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, an 87-36 Missouri win.
“He (Anderson) wanted some energy to start out the game today,” said Dixon, who had 10 points and five assists. “He felt like I could give us a bolt of energy to start off the game.”
In Missouri’s last game, a crushing 60-59 loss at Oral Roberts, the Tigers came out flat and found themselves down by 10 points quickly. It was reason enough for Anderson to keep the patient Taylor out of the starting lineup for the first time this season and replace him with Dixon. Even before the season, Anderson was struck by Dixon’s energy and said he has a motor that just keeps running.
“He’s a little pest out there at times,” Anderson said. “He’s got a chance to be a special player for us.”
Nine games into his freshman season, Dixon has consistently showed the confidence he used to make those big shots in pick-up games. Rarely has Dixon looked like a freshman trying to find his way. Rather, he’s comfortable playing at Missouri’s fast pace.
“It’s just a fun, easy way to play in,” said Dixon. “As long as you’re in condition, you can play this way.”
Fun isn’t a word most would use to describe Missouri’s exhausting conditioning regimen that prepares the team to run like crazy for 40 minutes. But during drills on the first day of practice, Dixon blended in with Missouri’s experienced players while the Tigers’ other two freshmen struggled to finish the drills.
Anderson wasn’t surprised, though. Dixon was the pest Anderson calls him before coming to Missouri.
“I used to play in this style, play defense and make plays in the full court,” Dixon said.
If there were a prototype of the ideal player for Missouri’s style of play, odds are he’d have a lot in common with Dixon, who is a disturbance for opposing players.
On Saturday, Dixon tried to annoy a player catching an inbound pass by quickly waving his arms in the player’s face and yelling.
Later, Dixon stuck out his hand and swiped the ball away from a player driving past one of his teammates. He also denied a pass by darting in front of the player he was guarding.
“Anything you can do to make them lose the ball or make them turn the ball over is what I’m doing,” he said.
Dixon has fit in just as nicely on offense. He plays poised and makes smart decisions, looking for the player with the hot hand or slowing the pace when the Tigers get out of control. Though he’s most skilled at finding teammates with passes, he can score too, averaging almost eight points in 17 minutes per game.
“You’ve got to pay attention to him,” Anderson said.
Taylor's known that for a while.