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Excellence in pursuing excellence
William F. Reed
December 25, 1978
Dayton's Jim Paxson seeks perfection, but would settle for some recognition
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December 25, 1978

Excellence In Pursuing Excellence

Dayton's Jim Paxson seeks perfection, but would settle for some recognition

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To Jim Paxson of the Dayton Flyers, there is a lot more to basketball than jumping, shooting and dunking. Oh, he can do all those things with considerable proficiency, but Paxson, a 6'6" senior guard, is a cerebral player who puts even greater store in the little things that mean a lot. So, to cite some parallels that opposing coaches have made, Paxson plays defense like Jerry Sloan, looks for the open man like Bill Bradley and moves without the ball like John Havlicek. Dayton Coach Don Donoher says Paxson has more "court awareness" than any college player he has ever seen, and Paxson's father, also named Jim, who played for the Flyers and in the NBA, says his son's goal is simple if unattainable: "He wants to play the perfect game, and he won't be satisfied until he does."

Paxson has come close on a number of occasions, most notably late last season against Notre Dame. In a game that Dayton had to win to earn a bid to the NIT, Paxson hit on 11 of 17 shots, had eight assists, made three steals, had only one turnover and held high-scoring Duck Williams to only two points. The Flyers won 66-59, and the normally undemonstrative Paxson shocked Donoher by giving him a big hug. "I was smiling after that game, finally," says Paxson, "but usually I'm not that satisfied."

Indeed, Paxson is so "driven," as he puts it, by the quest for perfection that he invariably finds fault with himself, no matter what the statistics say. "When he has a bad game, or when we lose," says Donoher, "he gets so mad that he looks like he wants to duke himself out." But anger, like joy, is an emotion that Paxson almost unvariably suppresses in public. Only once in his career at Dayton has he lost his self-control, and that came after a Chattanooga player had repeatedly pushed him around the floor. "I finally threw the ball at him," says Paxson. "I was sorry about it then, and I'm still sorry about it."

Because it distracts him, Paxson tries to eliminate emotion. "Most guys celebrate after they make a great play," he says, "but I don't, because I'm already concentrating on what's going to happen next. I always know the score, what offense and defense the other team is using, things like that." Paxson also husbands his energy, so that late in a game he has enough left to sprint past his man for easy—and often crucial—layups. Small wonder that this season Paxson as usual leads Dayton in scoring, with 23 points a game, as well as in assists and steals. "I see myself as a team player," he says. "I want to make everybody a better player and us a better team. That kind of feeling is inborn, I guess. That's the only way I can explain it."

Jim is the third member of his family to be a Flyer mainstay. His maternal grandfather, John L. Macbeth, was a wealthy insurance man who contributed generously to Dayton athletics. Last year, in fact, Paxson, a marketing major with a 3.4 average, won the Macbeth Trophy given to the team's outstanding student-athlete. His father and Donoher were teammates at Dayton in the early '50s before the elder Paxson left school to spend two years in the Army during the Korean war. He came back in 1955 to finish his education and in 1956 helped take Dayton to the NIT finals. Upon graduation, he was drafted by the Lakers and married Jackie Macbeth. After two years of pro ball, he came back to Dayton and eventually took over his father-in-law's insurance agency.

The oldest of five children, Jim began playing basketball almost as soon as he could walk. His father put a tiny hoop on a door and gave 8-month-old Jim a little ball to play with. From then until now, his father has been the dominant influence in Jim's life. "I always told him a good pass was as good as a shot," the senior Paxson says. "When Jim was in high school, we'd go scout a team together to see if it had a weakness. If it did, we'd talk about the weakness, and when Jim played that team, he'd go and make a basket off what we had talked about."

Jim grew up, both as a person and a player, when his parents sent him to military school in Maryland for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades. "At first it was tough, being so young and being away from home, but I learned a lot of leadership and responsibility," Jim says. By the time he graduated, Paxson was captain of the cadet corps, an honor student and an outstanding athlete.

During that time, something else happened that had a profound effect on young Jim. His father took him to a Cincinnati hospital to introduce him to Maurice Stokes, the NBA All-Star who had been paralyzed by a rare nervous disorder at the peak of his career. At the time Stokes became ill, he and Paxson Sr. were teammates on the Cincinnati Royals.

"Meeting Maurice taught me that there are more important things than basketball," Paxson says, "but it also showed me that if you have a God-given ability, then you'd be wasting something important if you didn't use it. I picked Maurice for my confirmation name, because you're supposed to pick a soldier image, somebody that gives you strength."

At Alter High, a Catholic school in the Dayton suburb of Kettering, Paxson didn't make the varsity until his junior season, but he blossomed into a star the next year, leading Alter to the state semifinals. Colleges all over the country pursued him, but he decided to stay at home. "I really believe he went to Dayton to please us," says his father. "We're a very close family, and when he had to make the choice, he did it for his family."

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