Prep boys' basketball: Father and son's basketball bond grows at Orem
He sat hunched over in the locker room, exhausted after one half of basketball and one week of the flu, and told his assistant coach he was not sure he could make it back onto the court.
As with everything about the game they both love, the coach resisted the urge to push the player to a decision. In the end, however, Dalton Nixon made another choice that made his father proud.
As father and son, Kevin and Dalton Nixon have formed a bond over basketball. And as coach and player both wearing the blue and gold of Orem High, that bond has become even stronger.
"There aren't a lot of dads out there that can say they've been to every single one of their son's basketball practices and games," the elder Nixon said. "To be able to be behind the scenes, in the locker room, and share what I know with him every day is just special."
Kevin Nixon was raised in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he grew tall, with a basketball in his hands. He played college ball at Northwestern and Utah Valley before settling in at BYU in the early 1990s. He met his wife, Stephanie, a former Division I player herself, and they had three children.
It would have been easy for the parents to force the boy into the gym, but Kevin wanted his son to decide for himself whether he would play.
"He was more into other things than sports when he was really little," the father said. "He's my only son, but I told myself I wasn't going to push him into basketball."
But even as a child, Dalton heard stories of his father's playing days. Family and friends talking about Cougar blue and three-quarter-court heaves to win conference championships.
"I just grew up and heard everyone talking. 'Your dad was such a great player. Are you going to BYU someday?' " said Dalton, who is a junior. "I never really understood all of what was going on until, like, sixth grade and I started playing competitive basketball. That's when I made a goal to play Division I basketball."
Kevin remembers the moment. They were in the Marriott Center in Provo after watching a BYU practice. They were walking down a hall to an elevator, and Dalton said he was going to play there someday.
"It was almost like a switch flipped for him," Kevin said.
The Nixons spent countless hours after that helping their son develop: Dalton and his father in a church gym working on ball-handling, Dalton in his driveway firing up thousands of shots while his mother rebounded.
And while his game grew, so did his body. He shot up 4 inches between eighth and ninth grade and then more after that. He's 6-foot-7 now and, at just 16 years old, still might outgrow his 6-9 father.
Colleges came calling early in Dalton's high school career, and once again, Kevin tried not to influence his son's decision.
"I knew they'd support me wherever I went," Dalton said. "It just happens to be that BYU was the right place for me."
Kevin admires the player his son has become. "He's the kind of kid who wants to get better, and he does everything he can to get better."
They've talked about what it will be like at Dalton's first game in Provo, and what it would mean to share another midcourt embrace after a state championship victory. These are the conversations they have on dark drives home after practices and games. These are the reasons why Dalton said he's chosen to play.
On Friday night in a crowded gym in Springville, Dalton made his way back to the bench, his eyes bloodshot, his body weak and his team moments away from another win. Kevin was waiting on the bench to give his player a pat on the back, and the satisfied look of a father who had just watched his son give his all.