The beauty of watching Dikembe Dixson on a basketball court is the anticipation of what’s next.
Even his Ashland teammates and coaches often don’t have a clue.
Unorthodox? Sometimes. Productive? Very. Entertaining? You bet.
“It’s fun,” teammate Steven Friley said. “Dikembe is great getting to the basket and does all these crazy shots. We look at him sometimes and say, ‘What did you just do?’”
The lanky, 6-foot-6 player with one of the largest wingspans in Kentucky high school basketball this season is generally described as a diamond in the rough, as well as being rated the top sophomore in the state.
Last summer, renowned recruiting guru Rick Bolus ranked Kentucky’s top 12 high school players on college potential and listed Dixson at No. 5.
It’s for sure Dixson is beginning to come into his own during his first year at Ashland. He enjoys the team’s up-tempo style.
“I love the pace,” Dixson said. “Every game, I feel I’m improving ... dribbling, confidence, team play, just everything. Even if we lose, I feel like I’m always going up.”
Lately, Dixson and the Tomcats are doing plenty of winning. A current six-game streak pushed their record to 18-8 with postseason play less than two weeks away.
Dixson has been on a roll, delivering nine double-doubles in points and rebounds over the past month. On Tuesday, he scored 16 of Ashland’s 20 fourth-quarter points in a 62-57 win at Rowan County, the two-time defending 16th Region champion.
“He’s added a whole lot to the team, of course,” Friley said. “All that length and athletic ability, he’s given us so much with all the rebounding, scoring and blocking shots.”
Dixson, scoring at an 18.7 clip while shooting 60 percent from the field, is on the verge of breaking Ashland’s sophomore record of 497 points set by Drew McDavid during the 2004-05 season.
Coach Buddy Biggs continues to be excited watching Dixson’s overall development.
“If you look at where he was Oct. 15 to now, I think Dikembe has shown tremendous growth,” Biggs said. “There have been some bumps in the road and growing pains, especially early. He didn’t know our drills or plays, and he was learning to fit in with the other kids. It took a while, and he’s still evolving in that process.”
Dixson possesses a quick first step and comes at the basket from all angles, almost like he’s made of plastic.
“From an offensive perspective, the best thing Dikembe does is drive the basketball,” said Biggs, who doesn’t hesitate to remind his top scorer to keep attacking. “He’s so long, and his ballhandling continues to improve.”
Dixson scored 20 points in the first three quarters of a 70-65 victory over Elliott County, including 13 in a pivotal 18-3 run.
‘One of best’
“He’s one of the best athletically I’ve seen in the region since O.J. (Mayo),” Elliott County coach Greg Adkins said. “That’s a big statement. His lateral speed and the long body ... he’s very impressive. He has unbelievable body control for a long kid. Really, the sky is the limit.”
Ashland assistant coach Jeremy Howell, a former shooting guard for the Tomcats, marvels at Dixson’s ability to execute one of his weapons — a unique, underhand shot even in traffic.
“Very effective scoop,” is how Howell describes it. “I haven’t seen anything like it. He brings the ball from down low.”
Dixson doesn’t know from moment to moment what kind of shot he’s going to take next.
“Sometimes, it just happens,” he said, adding that he likes to pick up things from the NBA 2K13 video game.
“I try to take what they do,” he said.
Dixson hopes to grow to 6-9, which would match the height of one of his idols — Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant.
“He’s tall and lanky, and still handles the ball,” said Dixson, whose other NBA favorite is Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls.
“Rose gives his team that boost when they need it,” Dixson said. “He can makes things happen.”
That can also be said of Dixson, who has 11 double-doubles so far. He averages eight rebounds and also leads the team in steals as well as blocked shots, with almost three dozen.
“As the season goes along, he has developed his skill set,” Fairview coach Derek Cooksey said. “He’s able to impact a game in so many ways offensively and defensively.”
Ashland has beaten Fairview twice this season. Dixson had 23 points and 13 points in a 62-61 squeaker on Jan. 8, then finished with 17 and 10 on Jan. 25 as the Tomcats won 73-60 in Westwood.
“The first game Dixson killed us inside,” Cooksey said. “The second time, it was his mid-range play. His game is evolving.”
Biggs said Dixson’s decision-making has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season.
In the Elliott County, Ashland controlled the opening tip and quickly found Dixson with a pass behind the backboard. Instead of trying to force up a shot, Dixson flipped a pass to teammate Nick Miller in the corner. Miller re-directed the ball to Logan Salow, who buried a 3-pointer.
“When Dikembe draws defensive help, he’s kicking it out more,” Biggs said. “He’s also gotten much better finishing at the basket.”
“He has two more years. I think the kid’s got a chance to be a complete player when he leaves here. It’s pretty scary. He’s pretty daggone good.”
Dikembe’s sister, Suporia Dickens, is a starting forward at Marshall University. The 5-10 junior averages 6.3 points, 5.8 rebounds in her second season with the Thundering Herd and leads the team in steals.
Toward the end of Dikembe’s eighth-grader year, parents Sam and Yolanda Dixson moved the family from Illinois to the Tri-State area to be close to Suporia.
Dixson played at Huntington High as a ninth-grader and helped the Highlanders win the Ashland Freshman Invitational Tournament championship at Alumni Gym. He also remembers the experience for another reason.
“That was the first time I dunked in a game,” he said.
His sophomore season has brought several more slams. Dixson, also getting his work done in the classroom with a 3.5 grade point average, says his transition to a new school has gone as well as he could expect.
“I like it,” he said. “People here are so friendly.”
As with learning Ashland’s basketball system, it’s taken Dixson time to fit in with teammates.
“I think that process over the last few weeks has blossomed,” Biggs said. “Dikembe loves to cut up and have fun. He likes the give-and-take that goes with it. He will get on you, and you can get on him.”
During games, Sam and Yolanda are always in the stands supporting.
“I can hear their voices,” Dikembe said. “Usually when I go to the Y, they all go. I work on some stuff with my dad. I just want to get better.”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.