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Lanham Christian eighth-grader Derrick Dixon makes his mark on varsity; Carroll gets a WCAC victory

By Brandon Parker,

When Eric Reynolds heard the news at the start of last season that a seventh-grader would be joining the Lanham Christian varsity team, he wasn’t too keen on the idea.

“My reaction was that he can’t play,” Reynolds recalled. “I thought he was too young to be good on varsity.”

Three games into the season, after Derrick Dixon had scored in double figures in each contest, Reynolds and his Lions teammates had seen enough.

“After he did that, I knew he belonged here,” Reynolds said. “We don’t care how old he is now because he can do things that some seniors can’t do out on the floor.”

Now an eighth-grader, Dixon has continued to make waves as Lanham Christian’s starting shooting guard. Blessed with a soft outside touch and an ability to create his own shot, the 5-11, 134-pounder is the team’s second-leading scorer at 14 points per game. But what’s perhaps most impressive about Dixon is his poise in the clutch.

In the Feb. 8 regular-season finale against Perry Street Prep, Dixon scored a team-high 21 points and made several big plays down the stretch in a 68-64 overtime win, handing Perry Street Prep its first loss in Maryland Independent School Athletic League play.

“His skill level and basketball IQ, which gives him an ability to compete at the varsity level, are impressive,” Lions Coach Tony Lee said. “Of course, there’s still work to do, but he’s got a constant motor and a desire to be better.”

These attributes are why Lee’s eyes kept wandering during last year’s tryouts. Just a few courts over from where players were battling for a spot on Lanham Christian’s varsity squad, Dixon was holding his own in the middle school team tryouts, leading Lee to take notice.

“I had some slight reservations because he was so young,” Lee said, “but with the skills he has, I wanted to oversee his development and make sure he continued to grow into his potential.”

The news proved to be a pleasant surprise for Dixon, who had no idea that he was being watched. Despite the expectations that came with his rare leap to the varsity team, nerves have never been an issue for Dixon.

“At first, I couldn’t believe it for a second because it’s a blessing to have that opportunity,” Dixon said. “I wasn’t really nervous. I was just trying to do my best and get used to the system.”

Dixon’s uncle Calvin Jones, who joined the Lanham Christian coaching staff this year, thought his nephew was joking at first when Dixon said he made varsity. But after remembering the maturity and skills that Dixon has displayed since the age of five, Jones’s initial disbelief faded.

“He’s a natural scorer and he can get points with ease,” Jones said of Dixon, who has drained 28 three-pointers in 13 games this year. “Kids playing against him don’t even know how young he is because he’s like an old soul. For him, this varsity experience is better than any camp he could go to. It’s like on-the-job training and there’s no ceiling for him right now.”

The 8-5 Lions begin postseason play Tuesday against Model. . . .

Carroll adjusts on the fly

As a key member of the historic Carroll basketball teams that won 55 straight games from 1958-60 and a longtime coach, George Leftwich is known as a legend around the D.C. area. But even he admits that the task he was presented with on Feb. 7 proved pretty daunting.

That day, Carroll Coach Reggie Williams resigned with three games left in the regular season, leaving Leftwich and freshman coach Antoine Powell to take the reins 24 hours before the Lions’ next contest.

“I told our principal that I thought this last year would be on cruise control,” said a laughing Leftwich, who will retire after this school year. “It’s been a very challenging year, to say the least, but I’m still enjoying it and this opportunity.”

This past Friday, the Lions gave Leftwich a retirement gift of sorts by beating St. Mary’s Ryken, 69-54, for their first Washington Catholic Athletic Conference win of the season. The Lions entered the contest 0-17 in conference play and 2-23 on the season, but thanks to an inspired team effort, they hold some momentum entering this week’s WCAC tournament.

Mauri Winfree led the Lions with 18 points while Jahmai George chipped in 17 in a contest that saw Carroll erase a 15-point first-half deficit behind solid defense.

“We had a big run in the fourth quarter and forced them into several turnovers that got us going,” said Leftwich, whose team outscored the Knights, 25-5 in the final period.

George said the team found inspiration from their new warm-up shirts, which have the Greek word “Arete” written on the sleeve.

“It means excellence of any kind and that reminded us that we could do anything if we put our minds to it,” George said. “Everybody was feeding off each other’s energy and trying to get that first conference win.”

The Lions will play either Bishop Ireton or Good Counsel in Thursday’s WCAC play-in game, which Leftwich and his team hope can be the start of an improbable postseason run.

“The hardest part was taking a team that wasn’t yours and trying to bring them together. It’s kind of like taking in a new kid that you haven’t trained and he’s already formed his habits and doesn’t know your habits,” Leftwich said. “But credit goes to these players because they’ve listened, played hard and are having fun out there.”. . .

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