Kevin Nixon's collegiate basketball career is history now and, well, frankly, he's satisfied with the way it ended. He got what he wanted, so why be greedy?
You want numbers and records? Nixon set Utah State's single-season record for steals, averaging nearly 2.5 a game. He fell just three assists short of setting another season mark. He became the highest-scoring guard in USU history, with 1,456 points, which ranks seventh on USU's scoring list for all positions.How about W's? In Nixon's senior season, the Aggies produced a 21-10 record, finished second in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and won the PCAA post-season tournament and a berth in the NCAA tournament (where they lost to Vanderbilt a Sweet 16 team 80-77). It was USU's finest season in more than a decade.
Honors? Nixon was selected first-team all-PCAA a first for a USU guard right alongside the likes of Ricky Berry, Brian Shaw and Wayne Engelstad. He also was named to the PCAA's all-tournament team.
The Deseret News also recognizes Nixon as its March Athlete of the Month.
The Aggies had just closed out February with three consecutive losses when Nixon, the team's point guard and undisputed floor leader, guided them to five consecutive wins and the PCAA tournament title. After a poor showing in the PCAA opener, Nixon had 39 points and 13 rebounds in the next two games to secure the Aggies' NCAA bid. Against Vanderbilt, Nixon rallied from a scoreless first half for 15 points in the second half, but the Ags came up three points short.
That notwithstanding, Nixon says, "I couldn't have asked much more. It had to end some time. We had a great team. We won the PCAA (tournament) and went to the NCAAs. I got some good individual honors like this one. I'm satisfied."
Perhaps that's because Nixon knows full well just how far he has come during the past few years. He is walking, driving, dribbling, shooting proof that hard work and just plain determination can pay off. "I love Kevin Nixon," said Santa Barbara Coach Jerry Pimm earlier this year. "What I love about him is that he MADE himself a player. He MADE himself into a player."
Nixon is one of those endless unrecruited-athlete-makes-good stories that are so frequently brought to our attention. He was a guard in high school but spent most of his time mixing it up inside. He was effective and successful, but college recruiters had little use for a 6-foot-1 inside man.
"The main concern was his ability to adjust to playing in the backcourt," says retired USU Coach Rod Tueller.
Tueller took a chance on Nixon, who paid him back with long sessions at the Logan Rec Center and in summer league games, all the time developing a wide range of skills. For two years he was erratic and uncertain, but by his junior year, when his scoring average improved from 11 points to 18, he was a different player. But few noticed.
Which was nothing new. Nixon thinks he has always been unnoticed by recruiters and fans and for one reason: "I'm not flashy. I'm kind of quiet. I don't catch the eye."
And he's right. Oh, occasionally he'll make a sprinting, spinning 360-degree layup, but for the most part Nixon, reflecting his off-court demeanor, is a study in nonchalance and control. He's not a spectacular
scorer, rebounder, jumper, runner, etc. But, where most players do one, maybe two of these things well, Nixon does four or five of them well. This season he averaged 16 points and 5.6 rebounds a game, totaled 78 steals, shot 51 percent from the field and had just 98 turnovers while producing 182 assists (his only flaw was 60-percent foul shooting).
"I decided a long time ago I wanted to work on all aspects of the game," says Nixon. "I didn't want to focus on just one thing. Magic Johnson is my idol, and I decided if he could do all those things, then I could try."
But where Johnson is 6-foot-9, Nixon is barely 6-1. Not to worry, Nixon can hold his own, thanks to muscles by Nautilus and sound technique.
"I hold my ground, and I always try to get two hands on the ball," he says, explaining his rebounding philosophy.
Still, it wasn't until this season that anyone seemed to appreciate Nixon's all-around game. "People really don't know what I'm doing," he says.
Not quite. During the PCAA tournament, Engelstad, Cal-Irvine's star center, told Nixon, "You're finally getting the recognition you deserve."
"The talk around the league was that Kevin was certainly the key to our team," says Tueller.
Nixon is hoping for a professional career and, yes, he's heard the talk. "A lot of people don't think I can play pro. I'm too small. I'm not a great jumper. But I've been there before, you know."
In the meantime, Nixon is playing doubles for USU's tennis team as he did a year ago and finishing up his degree. He's majoring in business and marketing. Come to think of it, marketing might be all his basketball career needs.