Prior to the game in mid-December at DePaul, in which he only played six minutes, UIC superstar sophomore Dikembe Dixson was averaging 22.2 points per game. More impressively, he was shooting the ball immensely better than last season, when he won the Horizon League Freshman of the Year. His field goal percentage was up nearly 11% at 47.7%. What is most interesting about this is that he was attempting only 14.4 field goals per game, compared to shooting nearly 3 more attempts per game last season. Fewer attempts plus a higher percentage equals a massive increase in offensive efficiency. From downtown, Dixson was shooting 36.7% (an increase of 6.3%). His free throw percentage stood at 78.6% (up over 12%). Not only was he shooting the ball well from the charity stripe, but he got there 9.1 times per game in those first nine contests. If he kept that pace up, he would be leading the nation in free throw attempts per game and would be among the leaders in free throws made. And keep in mind he was doing all of this while playing nearly five minutes less per game than last season.
Anyone who increases their shooting percentages by that much must have worked extremely hard in the off-season because that explains how these numbers could soar so much. Repetition, repetition, and repetition is how players become better shooters, by taking lots of focused shots in a competitive environment. Another explanation is that Dixson was able to take better shots because he has much more talent around him than he did last season. The Horizon League’s top recruiting class took the offensive onus off of Dixson’s shoulders. As a result, this made the Flames more difficult to defend because they have so many scoring threats, while Dixson remained the apex of the offense. This season, he was able to play more of his natural positions of swingman or, at the collegiate level, the stretch four. Last season, he had to run the point and handle the ball much more. Dixson’s great ability to drive to the basket and finish strong has been evident ever since he has been at UIC. But the fact that he went from a mediocre shooter to a very good one shows determination. He will undoubtedly use that same resilient mindset to recover from the season-ending injury he suffered early in the win over DePaul. Don’t be surprised if Dixson comes back as a better and even more complete player than he was in the first nine games of this season. For the rest of the Horizon League, that is a scary thought.