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."
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
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
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."