The bone got really tender when I played on it and the only thing I could really do is rest it. —BYU forward Dalton Nixon
PROVO — It hasn't been all smooth-sailing for BYU forward Dalton Nixon since returning from his unique foot injury, although he's recently showed signs of some heavy contributions for the homestretch of the season.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore began this season playing an important role within the rotation, logging 15-20 minutes per game before incurring a stress reaction to his left foot. It wasn't thought to be serious but took some time to completely heal, placing Nixon on the sidelines for just over a month.
“The bone got really tender when I played on it and the only thing I could really do is rest it,” Nixon said. “It’s a weird injury, and you don’t realize how much you need your foot, but then you just have this little spot that hurts with every single step you take.”
Nixon returned to the lineup in BYU's 74-58 win over San Diego back on January 20 to the tune of just seven minutes played while scoring no points and pulling down two rebounds. Such could be expected given his five-month absence from playing time, but steadily the Orem product has become more and more involved.
The next four games saw the Cougars endure a tough 1-3 stretch with Nixon increasing his playing time, but not making the type of impact he was prior to injury. That all changed during the Cougars' 80-58 win over Santa Clara last Thursday, where he scored 12 points in just 15 minutes played while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out five assists.
“I had to work my way back because there’s a lot of experience and a lot of guys playing well on this team,” Nixon said. “I think the first three or four games it just sort of figuring out where I fit in and what not.”
According to BYU coach Dave Rose, he's observed a more assertive mentality.
“I think he’s playing with a lot more confidence,” said BYU coach Dave Rose. “I think you can see it and I think he feels more comfortable out there.”
Nixon's primary role is backing up Luke Worthington and Yoeli Childs in the frontcourt, doing so quite effectively against the Broncos, and then showing some good moments the following Saturday in a 75-73 win over San Francisco.
The last two games I feel I’ve found my role,” Nixon said. “Having some balls go through the net while feeling you’re really helping out there — it helps and it’s helped my confidence, for sure.”
As a somewhat undersized frontcourt player, Nixon has been asked to take on players bigger than himself and has worked his way around it, defending some of the West Coast Conference's top big men in the process. He's also worked to make those same big men get out of their comfort zone on the defensive end, working inside as well as on the perimeter.
“I feel I can work to help stretch the defense and then defensively, it’s something I’ve really improved since coming home from my mission,” Nixon, who served an LDS Church mission to Boston, said. “I’ve worked hard to get stronger and quicker, so when I match up with guys like Jock Landale I try and use my quickness and my versatility.”
The hope is Nixon's role continues to not only solidify, but also that he can improve to where games like he had versus Santa Clara is largely what's expected.
“Confidence for him will be the key, because he’s really an aggressive player,” Rose said. “He just needs to believe in the opportunities that he has and take advantage of them.”