Dixon Making Big Impact in Third Year


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

Eric Dixon (above) set career-highs in points (24) and rebounds (12) against UConn earlier in the February.

Owen Hewitt, Staff Writer

After posting a career-high 24-point double-double at Wells Fargo Center against UConn, redshirt sophomore forward Eric Dixon decided his next stop would be the National Constitution Center in downtown Philadelphia. 

“Honestly, I had to go there for a class, and I didn’t really have any other time to go,” Dixon said. 

A newly declared History major, Dixon is an instrumental part of the Wildcats’ starting lineup, having started in all 27 games the ‘Cats have played so far. On the court he features an aggressive playing style, backing down opponents in the post and wrestling for rebounds. But off the court, Dixon’s demeanor is much calmer. The six-foot-eight Dixon speaks quietly but commands the room as he elaborates on the importance of his family, explaining how he got into history in the first place.

“My family came to the [UConn] game, and we all enjoy history,” Dixon said. “As a kid, we’d always have AAU tournaments so driving to them, we would quiz each other and stuff and look up random facts, so I knew we could enjoy it. My family means so much to me… being able to do that after the game with my family is super important to me. It felt really good to be able to do.”

The most random fact Dixon can think of? After pausing for a moment, he cites “The Jungle”, a 1906 novel by Upton Sinclair as the reason that food production is regulated. 

“I just learned that,” Dixon said. “Hopefully Fr. Ryan would be proud of me for that one.” 

Dixon was a four-star prospect in the high school class of 2019 and the second-ranked player in the state of Pennsylvania. He was the first career 2,000 point scorer for Abington High School, located about a 30-minute drive west from Villanova’s campus. 

“I love my community, I love where I’m from, I love going back home and seeing everyone from back home,” Dixon said. “You know, I grew up there, since the age of one. My high school coach, my old teachers, my guidance counselor, they’ve all helped me so much. [They] helped me become the person I’ve become, it just means so much to me to represent them.”

Though Dixon grew up in close proximity to campus, he did not grow up a Villanova fan.

“I grew up in the ‘Nova Nation, but I wouldn’t say I was a ‘Nova fan, I’m kind of from a Temple family,” Dixon said. “You know if you’re from around here it’s either like, you love ‘Nova, or you don’t like them very much. So I would have to say I was definitely on the side of not liking them very much. But obviously it grew on me.”

That Temple family has surely come to at least tolerate the Wildcats as Dixon has grown to be the starring big man for the squad. Dixon said it’s a special opportunity to be so close to family while playing. 

“For my family members to be able to come down to Wells Fargo, I have a lot of family in the city, so it’s closer for them, it’s more convenient,” Dixon said. “Some say it’s their first game ever in Wells Fargo, to come see me. It’s really special.”

As for whether Dixon prefers the Wells Fargo Center or the Finneran Pavilion, he says he feels more at home in the Pavilion.

“I honestly like the Pavilion more. I played my tenth-grade league championship game in the old Pavilion,” Dixon said. “I like to be out there for my teammates. No matter where I’m at, no matter what arena it is. 90 by 50 feet. At the end of the day, it’s a court with lines on it.”

The forward says that he feels like the Finneran Pavilion provides a more intimate experience between player and fan.

“I just think it’s good for the Villanova community,” Dixon said. “I just like it here, I’m here way more often. We got like three games down [at Wells Fargo], we play like ten here. So it’s just comfortable here. But like I said, it doesn’t really matter.”

Dixon’s role as a Wildcat has also grown throughout his three years with the team, going from redshirting his freshman year, to coming off the bench last year, to starting this year. The process wasn’t always easy for Dixon, but he says that if he had to go through it anywhere, he’s glad it was at Villanova.

“It’s just one of those things where I’m thankful that I had to go through it here, I don’t know if I could have done it anywhere else,” Dixon said. “I’ve got some of the best teammates in the country, one of the best coaches in the country, and I’ve seen guys before me go through it. I’ve seen guys not play and then play a little bit, and then contribute, and help the team win.”

The big man’s play has evolved throughout the season as he’s gained more experience, but Dixon seems to have turned yet another corner in the new year. In the 12 games of the season that fell into the 2021 calendar year, Dixon averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but in 15 games in 2022, Dixon is averaging 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds. All three of the forward’s season double-doubles have come in 2022 against Big East opponents. Of the 14 games where Dixon has reached double figures in scoring, nine of them have come in 2022. Dixon said that nothing has changed in his preparation, but that the increase in performance is a result of giving maximum effort every single day. 

“We go hard every single day. Nothing changes, we preach that, so just coming in, doing the same thing every day and then learning from the games,” Dixon said. “There’s no experience like game experience. I’ve played before but I haven’t played a significant amount of minutes, I haven’t been that tired in a game, I haven’t been that tired shooting free throws in the arena with a bunch of fans in it.”

Dixon says that even though his role within the team has changed, his mindset remains the same as when he was coming off the bench last season.

“Whether I was starting, I was coming off the bench, I was still going to come in and try to play hard, together, tough and physical, whether I’m playing for two minutes or 30,” he said. “It really didn’t matter if I was going in for two minutes, it was going to be a hard, tough, physical two minutes. If I’m out there for 30 I’m going to try to make it a hard, tough, physical 30.”

Dixon’s three-point shooting has also been a major asset to the Wildcats, as he has been able to provide important floor spacing with his range. He lets out a sly grin when he’s informed that he has a better three-point field goal percentage than teammate graduate guard Collin Gillespie. Dixon actually leads the team in that category (min. 20 attempts) with a 47.8% success rate from downtown. Gillespie comes in second, shooting 42.8% on 181 more attempts than Dixon. Dixon says it’s something he works on, putting up hundreds of shots every day.

“The guys have confidence in me,” Dixon said. “So when Collin or Justin [Moore] passes me the ball when I’m wide open with nobody guarding me, it’s only right that I shoot it. I shoot with confidence, I plan to knock it down when I let it go, so I just try to be confident and shoot the right ones.”

The main area of effectiveness for Dixon remains in the painted area, even though the forward is often at a two-to-three-inch height disadvantage with his matchup. Dixon’s post-game certainly passes the eye test, contributing heavily to his team-leading 51% field goal percentage. Dixon says the post is just a natural part of his game. 

“I just try to be where my teammates like me to be, do what my teammates expect me to do,” Dixon said. “That’s really it. I don’t picture myself as a revolutionary, though I appreciate it.”

Low in the paint, Dixon also features as an elite rebounder, leading the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage, a statistic that estimates the percentage of available offensive rebounds a player pulls in while on the floor. Dixon’s ORB% stands at 15.1%, while his total rebounding percentage, including both offensive and defensive, stands at 15%. 

“Rebounding is one of those things that we always talk about, ‘Villanova Basketball,’” Dixon said. “It’s part of our pyramid that we base our beliefs off of. You’ve got to get it done. There’s no other real reason, just got to get it done, and at my position, I just try to be tough and physical.”

“Villanova Basketball” is a term that comes up often in post-game press conferences and media coverage of the ‘Cats, so when asked to define what “Villanova Basketball” means to him, Dixon points out four main tenets. 

“It’s playing hard, together, smart, with pride. It’s just a triangle that we have, it’s literally everything you see. The entire brand. Hard, smart, with pride, together,” Dixon said.” So when it’s nasty and it’s loose balls everywhere and we’re diving on the floor and we’re not making shots, when things are rough, we love that. That’s what we prepare for.”

Dixon’s teammates have been an important part of the redshirt sophomore’s journey, as Dixon has been around the same core of players since he joined the team in the ‘19-’20 season. 

“It’s been super special, like I said earlier, I couldn’t be here without them,” Dixon said. “Just all the times they’ve helped me, everything that I’ve been through here, you go through a lot in life in three years, so they’re really my brothers, I mean that when I say that. They’re great guys.”

As the postseason approaches and the super seniors’ time with the program draws to a close, Dixon and junior guard Justin Moore will become leaders of the squad for the next couple of seasons. Dixon says that he doesn’t think about the step into leadership much, preferring to play for the teammates he has while he still has the opportunity to.

“It’s not something I think about all too often. Here and there it pops in, but I’m here to play for the guys that are our leaders right now,” Dixon said. “It’s their last year so, just try to work every day and give it all for them, because I know they don’t have much time left.”