Cougars’ Saxon moving up fast

Thursday, February 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:19 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nahowan Saxon comes from an exotic, distant land where cricket and soccer are king. How does someone from Ashton Union Island, St. Vincent, wind up playing basketball for Columbia College?

“I’m better at cricket than I am at basketball, but in cricket it’s hard to get a scholarship,” Saxon said. “Basketball was my second thing, and that is how I pretty much got up here.”

At 15, Saxon moved to Shreveport, La., where he attended Evangel Christian Academy and played organized basketball in the United States for the first time.

Although basketball isn’t St. Vincent’s most popular sport, it is widely played throughout the country. Saxon’s father played basketball and his mother played netball, a variation of basketball exclusively for women.

Saxon misses tropical weather more than cricket

St. Vincent and the Grenadines are a group of lush, mountainous and volcanic islands north of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. Saxon said he misses St. Vincent’s tropical weather and picturesque beaches more than playing cricket.

“I’m still sick of cold weather,” he said. “Everything is just different up here. I’ve been here for five years now, so I’m starting to get acclimated.”

Cricket’s loss has turned into a huge gain for the Cougars. Saxon, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, is rapidly developing into one of the NAIA’s most versatile forwards.

The Cougars (23-2, 4-1 American Midwest Conference) play Hannibal-LaGrange at 7 tonight in The Arena of Southwell Complex.

Saxon played sporadic minutes as a freshman guard. Last season’s departure of Jason Wright, an honorable mention All-American, and other forwards left a gaping hole in the Cougars’ personnel.

Saxon leads Cougar backcourt

Bob Burchard, the Cougars’ coach, was forced to move Saxon to forward and scour the junior college ranks to fill the void. Although Burchard said interior strength remains his team’s biggest weakness, Saxon, along with junior transfers Tim Melz and Craig Bryan, has complemented the Cougars’ talented backcourt well enough to earn the No. 6 ranking in the latest NAIA Top 25 Poll.

“To watch Nahowan go from being basically a noncontributor last year to a heavy contributor this year is really fun to watch,” Burchard said.

Saxon is averaging 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds, up from 1.5 points and 1.7 rebounds last season. Burchard said he credits Saxon’s improvement to his intelligence and willingness to learn. Saxon was named Academic All-Conference as a freshman.

“When you’re smart, you’re a high achiever and you want to do well, failure is not an option,” Burchard said. “He is really young in basketball. His basketball experience isn’t from 3 years old. I’m just amazed at how quickly he is picking up things.”

Burchard said Saxon’s hard work in the weight room and his physical maturation allowed Burchard to move Saxon to forward.

“I think his upside is still huge,” Burchard said. “He’s not a really big guy anyway, but through eating cafeteria food, weight training and age, all of a sudden, your body starts to develop.”

Saxon’s newly found strength and his explosive leaping ability have made him dominant at times. He was named the Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Classic’s Most Valuable Player after making 16-of-19 shots combined in the Cougars’ wins against St. Mary (Kan.) and Brescia (Ky.).

Size key for Cougar guard

Aaron Edwards, Saxon’s teammate and roommate, said Saxon’s guard skills give him an advantage over most post players.

“He can really take a bigger-sized guy farther out from the basket and take it to the rack on him,” Edwards said.

Saxon is also an excellent outside shooter, often opting to face his defender and shoot rather than posting him up. His 56.1 shooting percentage is a team high, and he is the AMC’s sixth-most accurate free-throw shooter at 83.9 percent.

Saxon and Edwards mesh well on the court, but they get along even better off it. Both are devout Christians, and they attend church together on Sundays.

“He is a lot of fun,” Edwards said. “When you live with somebody, you become almost like brothers. I couldn’t have done better with the roommate situation this year.”

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