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Dixons wish comes true in signing with Patriots
FMU has been dream school for CHS guard
BROOKE DIXON SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and basketball-playing pursuits at Francis Marion University. She is flanked by her parents, Elizabeth and Stacey Dixon. Looking on from behind, from left, are Camden High School athletic director Jimmy Neal, CHS girls basketball head coach Natalie Jeffcoat and CHS principal Dan Matthews.

Talking to Brooke Dixon, you get the feeling that no matter what school at which level recruited her or, offered her a chance to play for their program, that she was going to hold out as long as she could for her dream school.

So, while playing on the summer travel circuit last season, when Francis Marion University started showing plenty of interest in the rising senior at Camden High School, Dixon was ready, willing and able to listen to anything which the Patriot coaching staff had to say to her.

And when the offer came Dixon’s way to join the FMU program, the 5-foot-8, two-way guard jumped at the chance. Dixon cemented her relationship with first-year Patriot head coach Jay Sparks’ program by signing a National Letter of Intent with FMU at a Nov. 12 signing ceremony held inside the Camden High School library.

The FMU staff got serious about recruiting Dixon last summer in having watched her play for the Charleston-based Lowcountry Ballers. After having seen enough of the three-year starting guard at CHS, an offer was extended which Dixon quickly accepted.

"I was really excited," Dixon said of receiving the offer from the NCAA Division II Patriots. "Other schools had contacted me, but Francis Marion was my dream school. That was awesome."

Dixon’s connection with the Florence school stems back to when her aunt and Lugoff-Elgin graduate, Valerie Dixon, went to school at FMU.

"Francis Marion is a school that I’ve always wanted to go to ever since I was younger. My aunt (Dixon) went there and she really inspired me to want to go there. Plus, I want to be a teacher so it’s good for my education and, their basketball team is really good. I’m really excited about it."

As a junior for Natalie Jeffcoat’s Lady Bulldogs last season, Dixon was the team’s second-leading scorer with a 10.1 per game average. She paced CHS with 3.2 assists per game and was one of its leading rebounders in grabbing 4.3 caroms per night.

Those numbers, however, do not tell the entire story. Jeffcoat said Dixon is more than just a basketball player who can fill virtually any role on the floor. She is Camden High’s senior class president as well as being a member of the National Honor Society.

"You won’t come across a finer kid than Brooke Dixon," said Jeffcoat, who was an honor roll student and the South Carolina Gatorade Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year as a senior at Camden High School. "She’s an honor student, a hard worker and a great teammate. She’s a joy to coach."

Like her coach, Dixon is a gym rat and, she said, she has been one for as long as she can remember. "Ever since I was a little girl," she said, "I always had a basketball in my hand. I really became passionate about it when I got into the ninth grade. I really wanted to get to the next level so, I trained harder and harder every day and I worked really hard to get there."

In addition to playing for the Lady Bulldogs each winter, Dixon played on the AAU circuit in the spring and summer months including several years with the Palmetto 76ers in Columbia, a team which also included current USC freshman Aja Wilson. Playing summer ball in locales throughout the Southeast exposed Dixon to coaches from schools which she never heard of before but who would inquire about her possible college plans.

"It helps a lot," she said of playing AAU ball in the off-season. "It’s a whole other level and you are playing against girls who are really competitive, as well. You also see a bunch of colleges that you may have never heard of or, have seen before and when they show you a little bit of interest, it helps boost your confidence level."

Having seen Dixon in action in person, Jeffcoat said she knows what college coaches saw in her guard.

"Brooke can do the one thing that everybody needs and that is shoot the ball," said the former University of South Carolina standout. "I feel that she is going to be a zone-buster. When she transitions to the college game, they are not going to ask her to do as much as we’ve had to ask here to do here at the high school level.

"Really and truly, though, she can shoot the ball with the best of them."

Sparks agreed with Jeffcoat’s assessment of Dixon.

"Brooke is a gifted shooter and a really good player," said Sparks. "Her high school numbers don’t truly reflect her shooting and scoring abilities as she has been needed to play the point position. That fact does provide for a good combination however, as she can play either spot."

Dixon said Sparks and his staff want her to come in and play shooting guard, a role she is more than happy and willing to accept. But she also knows that jumping to the college game will be a big leap in terms of skill level and she will have to be ready to take her game up another notch. But as she said, this is something she has waited her entire life to do.

"Of course, the college level is going to be more intense so, I have to learn how to react quicker on the court and things like that. I’ll have to adapt to that," she said of the adjustment from in going from the high school game.

The basketball court will hardly be the only place where things will change for Dixon. Speaking from her own experience, Jeffcoat said college is an entirely different animal for any teenager, but especially for a student-athlete.

"Brooke is such a hard worker that I don’t think she’s going to have any trouble transitioning to the college game," Jeffcoat said of what Dixon can expect once she arrives in Florence. "It’s just going to be the day-in and day-out expectations and the level of competition. With the region that we play in, where we play some tough teams, it’s going to be that way all the time for her.

"You just have to understand that once you sign on that dotted line that you belong to them, in a certain sense. That certain amount of freedom is gone. You need to be able to manage your class work, your travel schedule while trying to enjoy being a college student at the same time."

With a goal of becoming a physical education teacher, Dixon said she knows that academics will come first for her at FMU. "On the court," she said, "I want to have a good year as a freshman and learn a lot of new things. But academics are the most important thing and I want to focus on that, as well."

While this was an exciting day for both Dixon and Jeffcoat, shortly after the signing, the pair knew there is still the matter at hand which is Camden’s upcoming season.

With last year’s leading scorer, Sharneece Gary, having graduated, the mantle of being the team leader and having to hold up her end of the scoring falls, partially, on Dixon’s shoulders.

For her part, Dixon is anxious to try and lead the Lady Bulldogs back into post-season play on what is expected to be a veteran team. Jeffcoat will look to Dixon to help provide senior leadership both and and off the basketball floor.

What both player and coach agree is that they, as well as the rest of the Lady Bulldog players and coaching staff, are all excited about the possibilities which the 2014-15 campaign brings.

"This year, I want to make it to the state playoffs with my team," Dixon said with a smile. "I know that we have improved a lot both on and off the court. We have a better relationship this year so I’m really excited about that. I just think we can make it to the playoffs this year after not having made it for 10 or 11 years. I want us to get there this year.

"And, individually, I want to come out harder and stronger than ever before."

Jeffcoat said Dixon is both playing and acting like a team leader and a young woman on mission.

"Brooke’s game has really grown. Each year, she has gotten a little better," said the Lady Bulldog head coach. "We had our first scrimmage the other night and she’s doing a good job of distributing the ball, too. I think she is going to score more points for us to help fill that void left by Sharneece, but I really expect her assist total to go up, as well."

Part of the reason for Brooke Dixon’s expected solid play this coming season could be attributed to a weight being lifted off her back as she now knows what the immediate future holds for her. Just a few months ago, she was wondering just what path she would take once high school was over. On this day, though, there was no more lingering doubt in regard to that subject.

"Oh, my goodness," she said with a huge grin. "I’ve been waiting on this day forever. You always get nervous wondering ‘Am I going to get offered? Am I going to get a scholarship?’ Now, I am so thankful and relieved to be here."