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It was the injury that could not happen. He was the player who could not get hurt, not if the Crimson were to challenge Penn and Princeton for the Ivy League basketball crown this winter.
"If Calvin Dixon gets hurt," Harvard coach Frank McLaughlin said before the start of the season, "I don't know what we'd do; we'd have to try a number of alternatives."
And until a few days ago, McLaughlin had pushed thought of those alternatives to the back of his mind, as Dixon had consistently proven to be the team's on-court catalyst in the first third of the season.
But now, with an injury to Dixon over winter break, McLaughlin has been forced to come up with a replacement for the junior speedster, who is the only player on the team who can naturally fill the point guard slot, controlling the ball and penetrating into the lane, opening up the corners for shooters Joe Carrabino and Bob Ferry.
"I was playing basketball with some friends the day after Christmas," Dixon said yesterday, "and I slipped on some water." A trip to the Temple University hospital followed the mishap, and Dixon ended up in a cast, which was removed yesterday under the guidance of Harvard doctor Arthur Boland.
Boland was not available for comment yesterday, but McLaughlin and Dixon described the injury as either strained, sprained, torn, bruised or partially torn knee ligaments.
"He is definitely not playing this weekend [the Crimson faces Merrimack at the IAB Saturday afternoon and MIT Tuesday evening], and there is a good chance he won't play against Cornell and Columbia [January 15 and 16]," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin's dour two-week assessment may be a little on the optimistic side, according to Dixon. "It feels okay, but I really can't bend my knee back. That might be a result of it being in a cast for 11 days, Dr. Boland wants to take another look at it Friday, but tentatively I will be out for a month."
At the best, that means that Dixon will be back--although not at full speed--for matches at Brown and Yale on February 5 and 6. Until then, McLaughlin will juggle subs for the 5-ft. 10-in. guard, who so far this season has averaged close to the maximum 40 minutes per game.
"We might play Kevin Boyle [a freshman guard], bring him up from the j.v. But to tell you the truth, I'm not really sure. We'll experiment with different options," McLaughlin said Tuesday, adding, "But I'll tell you one thing, you can count Monroe [Trout, a six-ft. 10-in. forward] out. He hasn't looked good at the point guard position."
So far this year, when Dixon has been forced to the bench for rest or because of penalties, McLaughlin has gone to some combination of swingman Donald Fleming and freshman guards Ferry and Kyle Standley.
With none of the three a natural ball-handler--although Standley is a proficient passer--Fleming, because of his greater experience, may play more in the backcourt, pairing up with either of the freshmen.
That move would lead to more volatility on the front line, with Ken Plutnicki, Lamar Flatt, Bob McCabe, or George White filling in the spot vacated by Fleming.
In any case, the team--3-6 so far--will not be as strong with Dixon out of the lineup. In pressure situations, the team could always get the ball to Dixon, who could dribble out of the press. Now, McLaughlin will have to find another ball handler, or, more likely, slow down the offense.
"We just mentally have to be smarter," McLaughlin said, adding, "Everybody else will have to play a little harder."
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