Kasey Winters

ST. GEORGE — You could say Kasey Winters adds quite the punch to the Dixie State men's basketball team. Or that his rebounding and scoring skills give the Rebels a mean 1-2 combination. Even that he's been a knockout success.

And as you'd expect from the grandson of Utah's most famous boxer, Gene Fullmer, boxing out is one of Winters' specialties.

Not boxing, though.

Winters prefers playing hoops over trying to land hooks.

That, turns out, is a good thing for Dixie State — so, too, is the fact that the 6-foot-7 Winters has about a foot on his grandpa.

The Rebels are benefiting from one trait the grandson and grandpa share in common that transcends sports: a hard-nosed work ethic.

While everyone else remembers Fullmer for his 55 wins, including 24 knockouts, his legendary victories over Sugar Ray Robinson and his world middleweight championships, it's all the sweat and tears he sacrificed to become that prized fighter that sticks out most in Winters' mind.

"I like to watch his old films. You could tell he wasn't the most talented person, but he worked hard," Winters said. "He worked hard on the farm. Everything he's done, he's been a good role model."

And as hard work helped Fullmer become a world boxing champion in the 1950s and '60s, it's now a big reason why Winters is punishing the PacWest Conference. The senior center, despite giving up a couple of inches to many bigger middle men, physically pounds his opponents, just in a different way than grandpa used to. He leads the league in rebounding (10.3 boards per game) and is second in scoring (18.1 ppg).

"He fights. He probably got that from his grandpa," said Dixie State coach Jon Judkins. "You talk about that every day. Every possession in practice, every possession in the game, he never takes it off."

Though his team lost 87-79 to BYU-Hawaii on Wednesday, Winters fared well in his heavyweight match-up against 6-10 Lucas Alves, the PacWest's preseason player of the year, scrapping for 23 points and 11 rebounds.

"I obviously don't jump as high or run as fast as a lot of the guys out here, but I feel like one thing I can do is work harder than the guy I'm up against. That's what I try to do," Winters said. "That's something I've learned from many different people in my life, especially my Grandpa Gene."

Winters said his grandpa never pressured him to go into boxing instead of basketball. Part of that might be because his parents — his mom, Kaye, is Fullmer's daughter — moved their family to Mesquite, Nev., from West Jordan when he was 10. That's when a lot of kids get into boxing, but occasionally smacking the speed bag was enough for him.

"I've never really gotten into the boxing thing," Winters said. "I'd go to his gym sometimes and have fun with him and stuff like that."

Unfortunately for the Rebels, they only get to fight with Winters in their corner for one year. He used up two years of eligibility at Snow College in 2001-02 and 2004-05, with an LDS mission to Argentina, in between. He then played at Idaho State as a junior, finishing as the Big Sky's second-leading rebounder.

Shortly after Dixie State became a four-year school, Winters' ISU coach resigned. He had liked playing for the Rebels' new coach, Judkins, in Ephraim, so he decided to transfer. He redshirted last season, and now is making the most of his one season in St. George. He's twice been named as the PacWest player of the week.

"It was a little bit closer to home and you know it just seemed like a good fit," he said. "The only regret I have is I could be done with school right now."

As for the Rebels, they'll enjoy all of his KOs while they last.

E-mail: jody@desnews.com