Is Mizzou’s Michael Dixon the game’s best sixth man?


Missouri was struggling Monday night in Austin.

With Marcus Denmon shooting 3-12 from the field, Kim English struggling to get himself open and Phil Pressey turning the ball over, the Tigers needed a spark, and they got it from the man they rely on to be a game-changer. Michael Dixon scored 21 points on 9-10 shooting from the floor, sparking two different runs that push Missouri’s lead into double figures. After Texas made a run and took the lead in the final minute, it was Dixon’s driving layup that won the game for the Tigers.

He may be Missouri’s fourth-leading scorer at 12.1 ppg, but he’s yet to start a game this season, playing 25.1 mpg as the change of pace that Frank Haith uses.

Sometimes Dixon enters in the first two minutes of the game — or the second half — and other times he doesn’t see the court until after the first media timeout. But what is certain is that when he enters the game, its to put up points.

“He’s a starter, he started for us his freshman and sophomore year,” Kim English said of Dixon. “And he’s so dangerous because he can initiate us into offense and he can put the ball into the basket. It’s special to have a veteran guy like that coming off the bench.”

Dixon is the perfect change of pace for Haith. Generally speaking, when he enters the game, its to replace Matt Pressey, who is bigger and more athletic, making him more of a defender and a blue-collar presence. Dixon, who is technically a point guard, then joins Matt’s younger brother Phil in the back court. Phil is a distributor through and through, which is a perfect compliment to the score-first mentality for a guy like Dixon.

And while Haith doesn’t want Dixon to rein in that aggressiveness, there are times where he simply wished his streaky junior would allow the game to come to him.

“That’s the biggest thing we’ve always tried to talk to Mike about,” Haith said after Dixon sparked a 28-2 run by scoring 14 of his 16 points in the first half of a win over Texas A&M last week. “Get in the flow of the game, get a sweat going and let it come to you. At times he is a jitterbug. When he gets going like he did tonight, he’s going to take some risks and he’s going to make some plays. And tonight, we needed it.”

What’s interesting about Dixon is that he hasn’t come off the bench. He started eight games and a freshman and 17 as a sophomore. Generally speaking, when you’re a part-time starter as an underclassmen, you expect natural progression to take its course while you move into the starting lineup as an upperclassmen. To his credit, while Dixon assuredly wishes that he was starting — who doesn’t — he seems to have embraced his role as the spark plug.

“We got a good team. I just do what I can to help this team,” he said. “I’m not really to worried about anything like that, I just want to win. That’s great and all, I just attribute being good and being on a team like this to W’s.”

Perhaps the transition has been made easier by the fact that his teammates recognize his value to the team.

“Very valuable. He could start on any other team in the nation. He’s like instant offense,” Ricardo Ratliffe said.

Dixon may not be on the court for the opening tip, but for the Tigers to reach their potential they need Dixon to excel in his role off the bench. To date, he has.

Dixon is far from the only supersub in the country this season. Here are some other guys that come off the bench for their teams:

Dion Waiters, Syracuse: Waiters is the most talented player on the Syracuse roster. At this point, that opinion is almost a consensus. There are just so many things that he can do on a basketball court — he’s a defensive playmaker, he can shoot with range, he can get to the rim and finish in traffic — that his ability is impossible to ignore. The problem? Waiters is currently sitting behind two upperclassmen in Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche. He did last season as well, a fact that played a major role in Waiters considering a transfer over the summer.

But his mindset has changed. “I was kind of selfish last year,” Waiters told me back in November. “We’re going to have a great team this year and I can’t be the only one that’s unhappy.” As valuable as the 12.3 ppg, 2.6 apg and 2.3 spg that he provides in the 22.5 mpg he plays, its Waiter’s acceptance of his role that has been the difference for the Orange this year.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor: I’m not sure if I’m still allowed to call Jackson a sixth-man. He’s come off the bench in 18 of Baylor’s 21 games this season, but the three games that he has started just so happen to have been the last three games that Baylor has played. I’ll go with it for now, but it may not be justifiable for that much longer.

What makes Jackson so dangerous is this playmaking ability. He’s small — about 5’10” — but he’s explosive, he’s aggressive and he’s unafraid of a) driving the lane and elevating amongst the trees and b) missing a shot. At times, that lack of a conscience has cost Baylor. But Jackson has also had a number of games where he has been the difference maker in the second half, not to mention the handful of game-winners he currently has to his name. Jackson is averaging 12.5 ppg and 6.0 apg. Maybe that’s why they stopped bringing him off the bench.

Otto Porter, Georgetown: Porter is not technically a full-time sub, either (he started one game when Markel Starks was hurt), but he plays full-time minutes. A combo-forward, Porter sees most of his action at the four spot. But he’s been so good this season that it is tough for John Thompson III to leave Otto on the bench. Porter averages 28.2 mpg, the third most minutes on the team, while starter Nate Lubick only plays 19.5 mpg. He’s the leading rebounder and has the most offensive rebounds while sitting in second on the team in blocks and steals. Now imagine what happens when he learns how to play offensively.

Ben Brust, Wisconsin: You’d be forgiven if you thought that Brust was a starter. He played 25.9 mpg and is the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.7 ppg. He also has had a couple of big games this season, going for 21 points in a win over BYU and 25 — while hitting 7-7 from three — in a win over UNLV. But Brust does, in fact, come off the bench for the Badgers, providing a streaky, but potentially deadly, option along side the always-reliable Jordan Taylor.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.