Life can be cruel.
The basketball part of Dalton Nixon's life took such a turn in March. The all-time scoring leader at Orem High stepped to the free-throw line for the final shots of his high school career. His Tigers were locked in a slugfest with Bountiful High in the Utah 4A state championship game.
Two years prior as a sophomore, Nixon scored a team-high 18 points in the 4A title game, garnering Orem its first-ever state title in boys basketball. Now, to cap his career, he corralled a rebound -- of which he averaged 9 per game as a senior -- and was fouled. Nixon had two free throws with two seconds left and Orem trailing by one.
He missed both.
It's cruel to have to endure that in front your classmates, a college arena full of spectators, and on local TV. Still, Nixon said all the right things after the game. But it's especially cruel when those misses are to be the final two shots a player takes in a game for nearly 2.5 years.
For several months, that prospect faced Nixon as he planned to serve a mission. Yes, he would have to some degree lost himself and found solace in the healer of wounds he served. But for a competitor with more basketball ahead, getting back on the court and taking that next shot couldn't hurt.
Thankfully, that next shot should come Friday as Nixon postponed missionary service to join BYU for the 2014-15 campaign -- and I'll probably smile just a little when he gets his first official make as a Cougar.
Despite being a freshman on a crowded roster, Nixon should get a shot at the rotation this season due to both injuries and his play. Jamal Aytes is shelved until after the calendar turns with an ankle injury and Nate Austin is overcoming injuries as well. With both presumptive post starters out, it appears Josh Sharp and Luke Worthington will get the nod in the frontcourt Friday against Long Beach State.
Corbin Kaufusi will no doubt get time as a reserve center, serving time as an athletic rebounder, defender, weak-side shot blocker, and slammer of dunks. While much has been made of Isaac Neilson's potential as a big man who stretches the floor on offense, Nixon has displayed himself as a viable option as a forward off the bench as well. In BYU's two exhibitions, Nixon shot 4-of-9 from the field, 3-of-7 from deep (Nielson took only 1 three), and was 4-of-4 at the foul line. He also recorded 7 rebounds in 13 minutes against Seattle-Pacific.
As with Jake Toolson, there exists a possibility where Nixon redshirts with a mission still ahead of him -- whereas players such as Neilson and Kaufusi have already been on a mission. But with a talented roster suffering from injuries, I wouldn't mind seeing a frontcourt-by-committee approach until Aytes and Austin are healthy.
BYU needs to win and be competitive in non-conference play just as much as it needs to be first or second in the WCC, and Nixon provides an ability to stretch defenses and rebound that would complement traditional play-in-the-paint post players like Worthington and Kaufusi quite well. So at least in the first few months of the season, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dave Rose play both Nielson and Nixon.
As in the case of Toolson, I hope to see Nixon play. These aren't fringe players whose decisions to play first couldn't really affect the team. Both are highly-regarded prospects who provide the team with abilities it needs. Since Nixon is healthy and on the active roster, I hope to see him making buckets as a Cougar.