Friendship helps freshman fit in on Missouri men's basketball team

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 5:12 p.m. CST, Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Freshman guard Michael Dixon drives the ball down the court against Fairleigh Dickinson on Dec. 12 at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — The relationship between sophomore Marcus Denmon and freshman Michael Dixon extends far beyond just being teammates on the Missouri men's basketball team.

They are like brothers.

During basketball scrimmages the two are always defending each other competing for supremacy. It’s an act similar to siblings rolling on the floor wrestling. They defend each other with such intensity it looks as if they are in an actual game. On each possession Denmon talks trash to try and make the other uncomfortable and gain an upper hand. He said their scrimmages are probably tougher than anything they ever see in a game.

“We get at each other the most in practice, so in the games it should be easy,” Denmon said. “I don’t think anybody gets after us in games like we get after each other in practice.”

The rivalry doesn’t end there. The two Kansas City natives take their competition to the virtual streets of the war video game Call of Duty. Whenever there is a break from practice or school, the two are usually found talking trash to each other through the plastic head sets that connect them online.

“He’s a little better because he’s been playing longer,” Dixon said like a little brother explaining why his older brother beat him.

The two met on the elementary school playgrounds in Kansas City and have been friends ever since. The relationship has helped Dixon become one of the Tigers' most consistent guards. Entering the end of nonconference play Wednesday against Savannah State, he is averaging nearly nine points a game and was voted the Big 12 Conference Newcomer of the Week on Dec. 20. Denmon’s older-brother-like approach has helped make the usually steep learning curve for freshmen seem like a minor speed bump for Dixon.

“That transition from high school to college can be tough on freshmen,” Denmon said. “You know coming from high school and being ‘the man’ and averaging 20 something and then having to come to a system that there is other guys that you got to learn from and kind of take on a new role.”

When Dixon committed to play basketball at Missouri, Denmon immediately assumed the role of older brother to help make the transition easier. The two arrived on campus together and the sophomore made sure the newcomer would be ready for the intensity and speed of college basketball. They spent nights shooting jump shots and working out, something that Denmon thinks has paid dividends for Dixon, who is shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line.

“His work ethic is really good coming in and putting time together,” Denmon said. “We came together and got late night shots up and worked on those things that we gotta work on. I feel like those things paid off.”

Denmon’s presence on-court has also eased the transition for Dixon. From years of playing together in AAU basketball for K.C. Pump N' Run, the two often know where the other will be on the floor, and Denmon provided a security blanket for Dixon as he adjusted to the speed of the college game.

“I know his game, and I know what he likes to do,” Dixon said. “So I just try to get him the ball in situations where I think he can score.”

During practice, the trash talk that seems like brotherly banter is done for a reason. It might seem like Denmon is bullying the younger player, but he has a reason. He said he does it to help make Dixon more motivated and show him how to keep his cool when opponents might try to talk trash.

“I mean that’s all good because you see a lot of that stuff in a game, and it just makes adapting to the game easier,” Dixon said.

As Missouri gears up to play Kansas State for the start of Big 12 play, Denmon said that Dixon will play an important role. The team will need him to help guard the likes of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente who are averaging 34 points combined for the No. 10 ranked Wildcats.

“He’ll be real important. Going in it’ll be a wake up call for him, but I’m sure he’ll adjust being that this is conference play and it gets a lot tougher,” Denmon said. “But I’m sure he’ll perform. He’s done it all season.”


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