GREENSBORO, NC — You wouldn’t know it by watching him stalk the Coppin State sidelines in the Greensboro Coliseum, but Juan Dixon is pretty excited about his team’s future.
When he’s brought to me after his team’s 56-49 loss to UNC Greensboro, I’m not exactly sure how the interview will go. I usually prefer not to interview coaches after a loss unless its absolutely necessary. Their moods can range from reflective to hostile or anything in between, and insight on why they lost can often be the furthest thing from their minds.
But I wasn’t too concerned with the specifics of how the game was lost. They shot 28 percent for the game, were out-rebounded 49-32 and only got two points from the bench. But all of that is info anyone looking at a boxscore could get. I wanted to get a feel for where this Coppin State team is headed.
“I loved it,” Dixon said of his team’s performance on Monday night. “I mean, we compete like that defensively and we’re going to win a lot of basketball games.”
He wasn’t even upset with the shooting percentages.
“We have some high-level shooters on our team, we shot 5-for-34 behind the line. We got some good looks. I’m confident that we’ll make will make threes. I love that we took 34. I wish we could have took six more.”
Coppin State has eight newcomers
The former University of Maryland star and NBA veteran recently tipped off his fifth season at the West Baltimore HBCU. The condensed 2021-22 season was his best as the team went 8-4 in the MEAC, tying for first place in the division race. But that was a veteran squad filled with “grown men” in the words of one Coach K. This current squad bares little resemblance, thanks to the transfer portal.
“We miss some seniors — Dejuan Clayton, of course, Anthony Tarke, Kobe Thomas. But you know, we got enough. You just got to get these newcomers familiar how we do things,” he said. “And make sure we continue to continue to compete at that level. If we compete like that. We’re going to win a lot of games.
One of the eight newcomers who helped carry the load offensively on Monday was Jesse Zarzuela. The redshirt sophomore from Missouri State-West Plains scored 21 points to lead the Eagles. He took 23 shots to get them, including 18 3-pointers, making just three of them. He had a similar but slightly better percentage when he put up 25 against DePaul a few nights ago. But Dixon isn’t concerned.
“I’m not worried about us making shots,” Dixon said. “I would like for us to play faster and I would like for us to take more threes.”
Zarzuela also had eight of Coppin’s 15 steals. And for Dixon, that is the more important number as he and his staff figure out how to put the pieces together.
“As a staff, we’re still getting to know everyone and trying to see what they do well and how they can — how we can best put them in positions to be successful,” he said. “But it starts and ends on the defensive end and offensively we’ll get it going. Somehow we’ll figure it out.”
That may feel like blind faith, but for Coppin State, it’s just trusting the process. It sounds cliche at this point, but when you are at the NCAA program with the smallest program in Division I, sometimes you have to see things that aren’t there yet.
Coppin State is currently 0-5 on the season. And they don’t have any cupcakes on the schedule either. After opening at home on Wednesday it will travel to Charlottesville to play UVa. But Dixon isn’t vexed about it.
“Do we want to win games? Absolutely. But you know, we lost against a very good team tonight, but we got better and we got we gonna watch film. We’re going to learn from it,” he said.
“I won’t take a lot of positives from the film, but for the most part, man, if we continue to guard that way and play with that type of effort for 40 minutes, we’ll have success coming up shortly.”