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Future museum curator Eric Dixon fulfills passion for history and hoops at Villanova

A look beyond the basketball court at Villanova’s Eric Dixon, whose basketball prowess is matched by his love for literature and history.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs Villanova Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Forget opposing defenses and game-planning for another high-profile Division I recruit, when the Dixons were on the road travelling for hours to different AAU tournaments, the last thing on Eric Dixon’s mind was making an impression for collegiate scouts. Instead, he was preoccupied with a different kind of game.

What’s the capital of Norway?

What was the downfall of the Ming dynasty?

Who was the only U.S. president to serve twice, but non-consecutive terms?

“He was such an avid reader, that he was able to hold his own,” said Eric Dixon Sr., when looking back at the trivia contests he would have with his son. “He’s competitive at everything. You just don’t get a lot of 14-year-olds asking you questions about feudal Japan, but it was fun, it was different and it helped the miles go. You’re not thinking about being 37 miles away from the exit, you’re thinking who was that?

“It wasn’t just based on what happened this certain year, it would be about the ramifications of certain historical events. It’s amazing looking back. Even at that time, he was able to have such a clear grasp of the connections between events in the lives of actual people.”

When a teenager has an arsenal of World War II-era facts just hours before terrorizing opposing defenses on the court, you know he’s not messing around.

“I’m just really into history, it’s something that’s always been a part of my journey,” Dixon said. “My dad and I would always go back and forth with trivia facts, and I got really into looking up things in history. Just two, three hours going back and forth trying to see who can stump who.”

At times, his mother, Jean Dixon, would need to step in and officiate.

“I think he cheated,” the elder Dixon said. “I think he would know when a car ride was coming, and he’d come up with these obscure things to try and trip me up. ... One time, he came up with a whole collection of questions about Japanese history and culture, then he’d stump me with that.”

The Villanova big man currently stands at 6-foot-8, but he’s read through stacks of books that go much higher than that at a young age.

Basketball might be the passion that he’s best known for, but before he ever dribbled or made a jump shot, his first love was literature and history.

“It’s my dad, and the inner nerd in me, I was a bookworm,” said Dixon for what inspired him. “Growing up, I read a lot of books. I was at the top of the leaderboards for all the reading competitions at my school. It was just wanting to learn. As a kid, I really loved and read a lot of Magic Tree House and the spinoffs, where they go back in time and stuff.”

His father is a former journalist turned teacher, while his mother works at Holy Family University. Books have always been a big thing at the Dixon household.

“With Eric, it was like we had to do everything,” Dixon Sr. said. “We were at the baseball games, football games, and basketball games, but also the Math Olympiads and Reading Olympics. The Reading Olympics were a big thing, man, he took pride in his participation in that.”

While some college seniors have some anxiety for what the future may bring, to Dixon, it’s very clear. Whenever the history major’s playing days are over, his dream is to become a museum curator.

“Probably more like an African-American history museum or something like that, but just the idea of taking a deeper dive into how exhibits are set up,” Dixon said. “What goes into picking out the information that gets put into these exhibits, especially the temporary ones that are set up for a few months here and there, and what goes into it. It’d be cool to get the opportunity to look at all those resources and materials. In college, you don’t really have time for all that because I’m playing a lot of basketball and preparing for the next test and paper, but to be able to sit down and enjoy the reading and learning is exciting.”

Wait, a museum curator?

“Eric is a unique person and one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever been around,” said coach Kyle Neptune, initially caught off-guard by Dixon’s future ambitions. “Incredibly bright, articulate, thoughtful, so any career path he chooses after his long, long stint in basketball, he’ll be successful in.”

Not everybody’s surprised.

“When I came as a freshman, he told me that, but he’s just a smart individual who loves history and loves to expand his knowledge,” said teammate Justin Moore. “it’s not surprising. He’s funny and always wants to learn new things.

“... We’re human beings as well. I think people think just think we’re here playing basketball and that’s the only thing. We have lives off the court, and I think people don’t understand how much being a student-athlete truly is.”

Until that day comes where he gets to run a museum, Dixon’s focused on running the Wildcats as a co-captain.

Last season, Dixon earned All-Big East second team honors. He led the ‘Cats with 15.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He shot 50.3% overall and 37.8% from long range.

His father has believed his brains with books has easily translated onto the court.

“Villanova’s style of basketball is very cerebral,” Dixon Sr. said. “You look at some of the best players that have come out of there recently, guys like Saddiq Bey, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, Collin Gillespie — these are smart guys. They’re very good basketball players, but they’re not overwhelming guys with their athleticism. They’re dominant with the mental part of the game.”

The goal is to make this season his best yet, individually, but also team-wide. Dixon earned preseason All-Big East honors for the upcoming season.

“We’re committed to the goal,” Dixon said. “We tried to be everything we could be by the end of last year. Resilient group of guys that never backed down, never quit. There was no fighting, nobody got mad at each other, and I enjoyed that. That’s probably one of the proudest groups I’ve been a part of, just the fact that we could have just turned on each other and go the wrong way, but we stayed together the entire time.”

The optimism is high for a fresh new season, with a healthier roster and new faces that bring a whole new skill set to the team.

Who knows, maybe one day, years from now, we could be looking at a Big East title-winner, future national champ, museum curator and the tallest Jeopardy champion.

“I would have to read, polish my tools, and my skills a little bit, but I’ll never say never,” Dixon said, smiling.