- Jason King
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Former Missouri standout Michael Dixon has a new team. The question now is whether he'll ever get to play for it.
Dixon told ESPN.com that he committed to Memphis during a telephone conversation with Tigers coach Josh Pastner on Wednesday night. Dixon is scheduled to fly from his native Kansas City, Mo., to Memphis on Thursday morning to begin classes. Dixon, though, must get a waiver from the NCAA to be able to play for the Tigers as a senior in 2013-14. Redshirting is not an option for Dixon, who was kicked off the Missouri team in November after a female student accused him of sexual assault, the second such claim made against him since January 2010.
"I hope that I can don a Memphis uniform," Dixon said in his first public comments in more than seven months. "I hope the NCAA sees that, in a time where so many players are leaving school after one or two years and worrying about themselves, I'm a guy that wants to be in school. I could've easily went professional after this happened.
"But this isn't how I wanted to be remembered in college. I wanted another chance to prove myself in and out of the classroom and on and off the court."
Dixon averaged 13.5 points and 3.3 assists per game as a junior for Missouri in 2011-12, when numerous media outlets tabbed him as the national sixth man of the year. If the NCAA deems him eligible this season, Dixon likely will be among the top 10 point guards in college basketball. Although he reiterated his earlier stance that he "did nothing wrong," Dixon on Wednesday declined to discuss further details of the allegations made against him at Missouri. He did, however, express frustration with the university's handling of the situation.
Dixon was kicked out of school despite never being charged -- or even questioned -- in either of the sexual assault allegations. Prosecutors in Boone County, Mo., determined a police investigation lacked sufficient evidence to interview Dixon in the second case in 2012. And the first alleged victim declined to press charges against him in 2010. Dixon said he feels as if his scholarship was "stolen" from him.
"It hurt me extremely," Dixon said. "It was my senior year. It was my home-state school. Missouri will always have a place in my heart regardless of what happened to me, but it was definitely a wake-up call.
"Every workout and everything I do on the basketball court is going to be fueled by that. It's definitely motivation."
Dixon has spent the past six months working out on his own in Kansas City while taking online courses through a junior college. He said he is not a "negative thinker" and was always confident he would be able to continue his career elsewhere. Still, Dixon said the attacks on his character on the Internet and in the media were often difficult to stomach.
"It has to bother you if you're human," Dixon said. "But the people that really know me know that I'm not the guy that's been portrayed. That's all I really need as clearance. If you don't know me, it doesn't matter what you think. My former teammates at Missouri know how I am, and the coaching staff there knows how I am. I don't worry about anything else.
"The situation has been really hard on my family, probably a little more than it has me, as far as emotionally, mentally. That's why I'm ready to get to college and get the ball rolling. I want everybody to be well again."
Dixon's family hopes the NCAA will grant him a waiver similar to the one obtained last fall by Dez Wells, who was expelled from Xavier amid sexual assault allegations but never charged. He was allowed to play right away at Maryland and led the Terrapins in scoring last season.
Dixon said Pastner assured him Memphis would work tirelessly to convince the NCAA that he should be granted a waiver.
"It's out of my control," Dixon said. "The Dez Wells incident ... mine is so similar, in some ways. But in some ways, it's even less of a situation, being that I never even talked to any sort of [law enforcement] during that time. I feel confident, and Coach Pastner feels confident."
Others aren't so sure.
Two Division I coaches who were interested in Dixon and studied his situation said they thought the chances were slim that the NCAA would grant him the waiver. They noted that Dixon's case differs from Wells' case in two ways: Dixon was accused of sexual assault on two occasions instead of one, and Wells was expelled from Xavier for allegations of sexual assault, as decided by the Xavier Conduct Board. But when an Ohio grand jury reviewed the criminal charges against Wells, it threw them out. Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters laid into Xavier, calling the school's procedure "severely flawed."
Dixon hasn't received that type of verbal backing from anyone in Missouri. In fact, a source close to Dixon said the university wouldn't even allow him to take online coursework during the spring semester. And numerous head coaches told ESPN.com that Missouri athletic director Mike Alden was usually critical of Dixon when prospective schools called seeking permission to talk to the 6-foot-1 guard.
"[Alden] shredded him to my AD -- just absolutely shredded him," one Division I head coach told ESPN.com last month.
The two coaches interviewed by ESPN.com said Dixon's best chance of playing next season would be to earn his undergraduate degree by the end of the summer by taking 24 hours' worth of online courses in the next three months. In that scenario, he'd be eligible to play immediately under the NCAA's graduate student transfer rule, which allows students who earn their diploma before their eligibility expires to transfer without the penalty of having to sit out a season.
The hefty bill for the large online course load, however, would have been a burden to Dixon's family. And the thought of cramming so many hours (24 hours is basically eight classes) into a three-month span could have been intimidating.
If the coaches are wrong and Dixon is granted the Wells-style waiver, Memphis will tout one of the top backcourts in the country. Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson are all seniors who posted double-digit scoring averages last season. Adding Dixon to the mix would allow Pastner to employ a four-guard lineup, perhaps similar to the one Dixon excelled in as a junior at Missouri along with Phil Pressey, Kim English and Matt Pressey. That team finished 30-5.
Dixon said he scrimmaged with the Memphis Tigers during his official visit Tuesday night. He said their intensity and fire during the pickup games were the final selling point that led him to pick Memphis. Baylor was also pursuing Dixon, although the Bears were in a vetting process and had yet to offer a scholarship. Dixon also visited East Carolina, and had drawn interest from schools such as Colorado, Houston, Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, Arizona State, Purdue and others.
"[Memphis' guards are] all really good," Dixon said. "They're all fiercely competitive and want to win. They're very similar to myself -- super intense.
"Geron Johnson is one of the most competitive guys I ever played against. We even butted heads a little bit. But that's part of playing basketball. I left there thinking, 'That's a guy I want on my team. This is probably where I need to be, with a guy like this.'"
Dixon said he had an individual conversation with Johnson, a junior college transfer who entered Memphis last season after arrests for attempted burglary, marijuana possession and criminal trespassing.
"He's also had some issues in the past," Dixon said. "He's had a year to rewrite his image and he's been pretty successful with it. There must be something that those guys are doing down there that's right."
Memphis has gone 106-34 in Pastner's four seasons, including a 31-5 mark last season. The Tigers, though, have won just one NCAA tournament game during that span. Dixon -- who is known for his on-court leadership as much as his skill -- is confident he can help Memphis take that next step, especially after the adversity he's faced during the past six months.
"I sat at home and watched a lot of college basketball last season," Dixon said. "The main thing that stuck out is that the best teams always win. It's never the best players.
"It's easy for anybody to want to go somewhere to be the man. But it takes a real person, a real man, to want to go somewhere and be a part of a team and win. That's something I want to do. I've always dreamed of playing in a Final Four and winning a national championship. That's something I can see myself doing at Memphis."
Assuming, of course, that he gets the chance.