Michael Dixon: Will His Rumored Addition Give Memphis an Added Boost?Posted by Chris Johnson on June 5th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Watching under-performing forward Tarik Black walk away from his final year of eligibility at Memphis (and jump to Kansas) hurt. It was a shot – not lethal or even multi-wins-altering, but a shot – at Memphis’ very bright outlook in 2013. Waving farewell to hyper-talented if half-bloomed wing Adonis Thomas, who declared for the NBA draft after an underwhelming sophomore season, was another blow. The departures were starting to pile up, and the Tigers, populated with a quality three-man returning backcourt though they were, needed something to balance the scale. Michael Dixon’s reported commitment does more than that. If the rumors are true — and as of Wednesday afternoon, after ESPN’s Jason King got text message confirmation from Dixon denying what Memphis fans were no doubt all too ready to assume, that’s really all we have right now; rumors — the scab-picking losses of Black and Thomas and gives Josh Pastner another dynamic backcourt scorer to put Memphis in tip-top shape right as they dive into a new league, the AAC.
This is all really encouraging stuff (again, to reiterate: nothing is official just yet) for Memphis fans, and I would like to perk up and say I agree, that it’s just as rosy and auspicious as it all sounds, but alas: the hard news. Dixon can only play for the Tigers this season if his appeal for an NCAA waiver is granted. If something seems curiously wrong here and if you are wondering why Dixon should have to sit out another season after being kicked off the Missouri team last year after being charged with sexual assault, your concerns are valid. They also have a simple answer. Dixon, you see, didn’t play in any games last year, but was enrolled in classes to begin the fall semester. That academic involvement could push Dixon’s highly-anticipated return – and after averaging 13.5 points and posting a 122.7 offensive rating in 2012, with the chance to enter a Memphis backcourt that would almost immediately join the likes of Louisville and UConn in tier of elite AAC guard posses, who doesn’t want to see Dixon skip the procedural one-year transfer penalty? – to next season, which wouldn’t challenge Memphis’ likely status in the preseason Top-25, or even really raise questions about the Tigers’ ability to jump headfirst into the Conference USA-reduxed AAC. In the event Dixon can’t play upon arrival, Memphis would still be formidable, still be picked to finish in the top half of its new league and still almost surely earn Pastner his second consecutive NCAA Tournament birth. But you can bet your bottom dollar the Tigers want Dixon around, this year, with this team.
Trying to guess at whether or not that will happen would require a covert Watergate-like break-in to NCAA headquarters; the folks in Indianapolis are not the simplest bunch to predict. Failing that – if you’re still reading…ok good, you’re still reading – we can look back at a similar case involving Memphis forward Dez Wells, which (as Parrish astutely pointed out) did indeed result in the scandal-crossed Xavier guard falling under the NCAA’s good graces and receiving a waiver to play just months after announcing his transfer. Like Wells, Dixon was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing. Haith’s decision to expel him from the team stemmed from mere allegations of sexual assault, once during his freshman year and once the summer before his senior year. Wells was expelled from Xavier in August – and, ironically enough, actually toyed with the idea of transferring to Memphis– for what was then termed a “violation of the school’s code of conduct.” But Wells came out of the ordeal completely absolved of any legal misconduct when a Hamilton County (Ohio) grand jury failed to indict him on a sexual assault charge. Wells moved on to Maryland, where he averaged 13 points and just under five rebounds per game.
That decision should encourage, if marginally raise the spirits, of Memphis fans hoping to watch Dixon come through this fall, but before you pencil the former Missouri backcourt flash into your Tigers starting backcourt, before you start dreamily rehearsing the ways Dixon and Joe Jackson can run the break, sling crosscourt passes to sharp-shooting Chris Crawford and let Geron Johnson finish the rest, the NCAA – as you already know by now – is never that simple. The people who review these things – my mental picture of the NCAA eligibility workforce looks something like those creepy stone-faced immortals from “The Adjustment Bureau,” only with less-powerful hats — aren’t about to hastily ram Dixon’s eligibility papers through every customary checkpoint just because Wells, under similar circumstances, was granted his own eligibility one year prior. Dixon’s case will be evaluated based off a unique pool of evidence, mostly detached from any and all association with previous situations. We don’t know exactly what happened with Dixon – why he was mercilessly jolted from Missouri’s hoops team but cleared in a court of law, whether there were any unreported instances of impermissible sexual conduct in between the two chronicled incidents – and thus we can’t know exactly what will happen with Dixon, or how the NCAA will decide his case.
The resolution, however this all plays out, could mean the difference between another mid-seed NCAA Tournament outfit and a possible top-three AAC contender. Before we start making any of these judgments, Dixon needs to give the official OK on his transfer to Memphis. Right now, even that preliminary move remains clouded with doubt.