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Right to the point: Springfield Gardens native gets chance to start with country’s top team

That choice sure came as a surprise. Especially to Dixon."It's a great honor," the 5-foot-4 Springfield Gardens native said. "It's something I wasn't expecting...I actually thought this year was going to be my transition year."Not quite. The 18-year-old Christ the King graduate has been thrust into the spotlight immediately up in Storrs, Conn. Since Thomas went down with a torn ACL Jan. 15, Dixon has started all eight games. She's averaging 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game after the Thomas injury. UConn is 7-1 in that stretch.As a point guard, Dixon doesn't shoot much - she's only 6-of-25 from the floor in her month-long tenure as starter. But that's OK with Auriemma."As soon as I saw Mel go down, I made a plan and I think it's the best one for right now - Lorin Dixon," Auriemma told reporters in January. "There wasn't any champagne cracking or dancing among the coaches when I made the announcement, but I don't see why she shouldn't be able to handle it. I mean, we're paying her $30,000 a year to go to college. All she needs to do is catch the inbounds pass, drive it up the foul line and pass it to someone with the same shirt on, then go stand in the corner and not mess things up."That may not sound like the biggest vote of confidence, but Dixon is OK with it for a number of reasons. She has Tina Charles, her former teammate at Christ the King, to lean on for support. Charles, a regular victim of Auriemma's humor, was named the Big East Rookie of the Year last season and is a sure bet to be an All-Big East first team member at the end of this year."I know he's just sarcastic," Charles said before the season. "I know how Coach is. I love him. He's a father figure to me."It's that wisdom she has passed along to Dixon, who has handled plenty of pressure before, if not quite of this magnitude. The speedy sprite was the Royals' point guard when she and Charles led them to a mythical national championship in 2006. She's also used to handling a disciplinarian coach: Jill Cook mentored her as an assistant at Christ the King and head coach of the Libery Belles AAU team."If you can play for a coach like Jill Cook, you can play for a coach like Geno," Dixon said with a smile.Ironically, Dixon didn't start as a freshman at CK - she didn't even play varsity in her first year in Middle Village. No ninth grader did from 1998 (Clare Droesch) until this season (Bria Smith and Nia Oden). But now she finds herself starting at the most important position for the best team in the country, one that is trying for its sixth national championship."You just have to grow up and mature at the college level," Dixon said.Now, she doesn't have much of a choice.Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at mraimondi@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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