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Dixon fulfills his role on the court and in the classroom

  • Memorable moment:
    Memorable moment:  Daniel Dixon shoots the last-minute three-pointer that propelled the Tribe to victory at last year's CAA semifinal game against Hofstra  Photo courtesy of Tribe Athletics
  • In class:
    In class:  Dixon participates in class at the Raymond A. Mason School of Business.  Photo by Jim Agnew
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There’s nothing Daniel Dixon said he likes more than a seemingly daunting challenge, which may make him the ideal example of the William & Mary student-athlete.

Dixon, a 6-foot-6 junior guard on the Tribe basketball team, carries a 3.0 grade-point average in kinesiology, with a minor in business. He is awaiting word on whether he will be admitted to the Raymond A. Mason School of Business and thus change his major to that discipline.

The Great Falls, Virginia, native is also the second-leading scorer on one of the Colonial Athletic Association’s best teams (19-10) at 13.1 points per game.

As the team makes its way to Baltimore for this weekend’s CAA tournament, Dixon will, at some point, pull out his laptop and get in a couple of hours of studying.

“Guarantee you, everyone on the team will do the same thing,” Dixon said.

That sort of dedication is one reason why, in the latest audit performed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, William & Mary’s men’s basketball team was double digits ahead of the national average for graduation success rate (GSR) at 92 percent.

The NCAA developed the GSR just over a decade ago to more accurately gauge the long-term academic success of student-athletes. In the latest audit, 15 of W&M’s 19 programs ranked well above the national average of 75 percent. Additionally, five Tribe programs were tied for the top score in the nation: Men’s and women’s gymnastics, volleyball, women’s golf and men’s tennis.

That’s not an accident. From the moment a recruit lands on campus, whether it be for an unofficial or official visit, the expectations the university has for them are spelled out by Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Services Jason Simms.

“One of the first things I tell them is ‘I’m not here to keep you eligible; that’s not my job,’” Simms said. “My job is to make sure that we are providing them with the resources to meet their academic goals.

“I tell them, ‘If you’re willing to be challenged academically, and you want to play high-level basketball, this is a pretty good match.’”

Dixon in class (photo by Jim Agnew)Simms said he is amazed at the number of parents – and prospects – who tell him that W&M is the first school they’ve been to that has spent so much time talking academics, and how refreshing it is knowing there are people who will help their children make better decisions.

“We try to be as thorough as we can because we don’t want anyone falling through the cracks,” Simms said. “We recruit athletes here who are very capable of doing well, but we tell them that they are making a huge commitment to the College and to the basketball program, and we want to make sure we see you succeed in the classroom.”

Freshmen are introduced to study hall two or three nights a week “just to help them start to take ownership of their time,” Simms said. Unlike some colleges that sequester their athletes, the W&M study hall is held in Swem Library so they are treated like normal students.

Simms and staff don’t build the athletes’ schedule for them; rather they suggest courses they should take in-season and out-of-season, as well as courses better tackled during the summer.

“We try to make sure they are staying balanced,” Simms said. “Bottom line, that’s what is required to be successful at William & Mary. You need a balanced schedule, all the while putting them in the right courses so they are making progress towards that degree.”

That was precisely what appealed to Dixon, who was more familiar with the university than many recruits in that his brother, Darren, is a 2008 graduate recently named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 30 people under the age of 30 in the field of finance. It helped him feel more comfortable with the surroundings, but it didn’t mean Dixon was destined to play for the Tribe.

“I think the people are amazing here, and it’s such a prestigious school,” Dixon said. “I wanted a balance of not only great basketball – which I thought we could have and I think we have done – but also the academic side. I’m not going to be playing basketball my whole life and I’ve got to be able to do something.”

Dixon’s typical day involves classes from 9. a.m. to 1 or 2 p.m., then nothing but basketball from 2 to 7 or 7:30 p.m.. That might be practice, weight lifting, film study, extra shooting. After dinner, he begins studying at around 8 or 8:30. Then it’s off to bed around midnight to get ready for more of the same.

“There’s really no time left to breathe,” Dixon said, chuckling. “It’s something I was prepared for in prep school – I went to prep school after high school, where we had a really rigorous schedule. It really helped me prepare to keep myself organized and keeping a sane mental state. Not going crazy with all of the things going on.”

In Royal Farms Arena, Dixon will return to the site of the greatest moment of his sports life. It happened last year in the CAA semifinals against Hofstra, a game the Tribe trailed by two points with just seconds left in double overtime.

{{youtube:medium:center|j5f_j5eHf-8, Dixon's 2015 game-winning shot}}

Star guard Marcus Thornton, covered by two players, dished a pass to Dixon, deep in the corner. His 3-point shot splashed cleanly through the hoop with less than one second to play, putting the Tribe into the championship game the next night. Unfortunately, Northeastern outlasted W&M to win the title.

“It would have been icing on the cake if we had won the championship, but it was definitely a great moment for our whole team and our whole program,” Dixon said.

Dixon admitted he will head out to the spot that shot was launched from in workouts preceding Saturday’s 2:30 quarterfinal game against James Madison and try his hand again. Asked how much he thought about that play over the summer, he doesn’t hesitate to answer “quite a bit.”

“It was definitely something I feel like has made a mark on my career so far,” he said, “and it’s something I hope to build on.”