Michael Dixon is at a new school with a new chance, but he still knows the Missouri football schedule and can talk to you all day about his old school. He talks to guys from that old life, too. Even some who are still there. Former teammates. Staffers. Even the head coach.
Dixon is here at Memphis, a key player on a nationally ranked basketball team with a second chance that took six months, three athletic directors, two universities and a team of lawyers to vet. He made mistakes at Mizzou. Mistakes he knows he must own. But he’s different now, he says. Better understands the privilege of playing college basketball, for example. Has a steady girlfriend, which is a big change.
He knows his past is cloudy enough to start a heated debate with only a few flammable words:Basketball star. Alleged rape.
Dixon himself isn’t exactly sure how to describe the way he left Mizzou. He’s asked, and pauses. Officially, Dixon announced he was leaving Mizzou but there is enough beneath the surface that he gets up to talk to a Memphis staffer about how to answer. The conversation takes about 15 seconds, maybe 30.
“Just say I transferred,” he says.
There was a point where Michael Dixon thought he wouldn’t play college basketball again. Or couldn’t. His name was mud, and who would take the chance to bring him on?
No one from Mizzou would speak for this column, but Dixon was initially suspended by coach Frank Haith last October for what was called a violation of team rules. Within a month, two documented allegations of rape against Dixon surfaced. No charges came in either case, but Dixon announced he would leave the program. That was almost exactly a year ago.
The months of exile were a haze of embarrassment, anger, uncertainty and maybe even a touch of fear. He watched every one of his old team’s games, and with time on his hands, a bunch of other games, too.
He tried to stay in shape as best he could. He became a regular at a local 24 Hour Fitness, lifting on his own, finding a stranger to pay $5 to rebound for him when he could. He found regular pickup games around town, at Will Shields’ gym, at St. Thomas Aquinas. He even got together with some Kansas players every now and then after their season was over.
Some days, he’d go back to Lee’s Summit West, where he was a two-time All-Metro high school player before things got messy. He ran on the football field, did sprints on the track, sometimes wondering if he’d have to go overseas to play basketball.
He’d do that if he had to, and if he could. The money would be nice. But that’s not he wanted. Playing college basketball is what people know him for, and their last impression of him would be dropping out of a major program in the face of multiple rape allegations. He Googled his name sometimes and wanted to change the search results.
“Really and truthfully, 15 or 20 years from now, what took place at Missouri with Michael, he’s going to end up realizing it’s the best thing that ever happened to him in his life,” says his father, Michael Dixon Sr. “Because it’s going to shape him as a man. Once he has children, it’ll help shape him on helping his kids understand how important it is to surround yourself with good people and make good choices in life.”
In March, Michael’s friend and teammate Laurence Bowers shouted him out during his Senior Day speech. Some people cheered, others booed. Dixon saw both reactions on social media. The stress was hard for him, harder for his family.
He made mistakes, and that’s what people remembered first.
“When it’s all said and done,” Michael Sr. says, “if Michael would’ve made some better choices, none of this would’ve ever taken place.”
His name was, and still is, floating somewhere in the murky ether between no charges being filed and a suspension that led to his transfer.
A year at Memphis is a chance to leave a different impression.
“I needed this,” he says. “And I need to take advantage.”
Dixon says he wants to move on. Needs to move on. This is not just his second chance; it’s his last chance at college basketball. He’d rather not spend much of it going over the past, but he knew this conversation was coming, knows people have questions.
He is happy at Memphis, and wants that to come through. No ill feelings toward Mizzou. It’s important for him that people know that. It’s important for him that people hear some other things, too.
“I don’t have any regrets now as far as what happened, because I’m in a position to do what I want to do,” he says. “But I just would’ve made some different decisions while I was there. I wouldn’t have associated myself with some people I did while I was there.”
He’s asked for an example of how he’s changed.
“Well, I have a girlfriend now,” he says. “That’s something that’s definitely different.”
His voice goes quiet.
“I’m trying to just keep to myself, basically.”
There’s a pause. He continues.
“I think I’ve matured tenfold, since Missouri to here,” he says. “It was a big deal for me to get back into college. You know how it is, out of sight, out of mind. Nobody would’ve been able to see my growth from Missouri to here if I was overseas. You know?
“That was why it was a big deal for me to do everything I could to get back into college.”
Dixon sits back in his chair. His practice jersey is soaked with sweat. The air fills with the sound of bouncing basketballs. He has a new set of teammates now, one he is both leading and learning from. He has started both of his team’s games, averaging 11 points.
He knows this season will be the last a lot of people hear his name. He wants that to be a good thing, this time.
“It’s so different now,” he says. “But it’s fun. It’s so relieving, you know what I mean? Like, I’m so happy to go to practice every day. You know a lot of guys, three years in, they’re like,ugh, practice. Me, I’m like, practice! Yes!”