By CHIP CIRILLO
When Demontay Dixon transferred to Summit, the Spartans went from good to great.
The 6-foot-9 forward added an inside presence to a team that returned most of the key players from last season’s 19-8 squad.
Summit is off to an 18-2 start this season. It’s ranked seventh in Class AAA and first in District 11-AAA with a 7-0 league record.
“You just can’t measure the type of impact that he’s had on our group,” Spartans coach Josh Goodwin said. “Most people would say that I became a better coach the day that he stepped on the floor for us.”
Dixon became eligible in October after being granted a hardship transfer by the TSSAA from Grace Christian Academy.
The junior is averaging 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
He has an offer from East Tennessee State and has good ball handling skills.
“I had to drop out of Grace and Summit was the closest place (to where) I lived,” Dixon said. “It was a big adjustment, a different level of competition, meeting some new people.”
Dixon already knew Summit teammates John and Tai Carter and Jaden Lewis from AAU basketball.
John Carter, a 6-4 Navy commit, is another one of the Summit cornerstones.
He is averaging 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. The senior guard shoots 55 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the foul line.
“I think we’re just an all-around team, to be honest,” Carter said. “We can lock in on defense, stop people and then also we can bring up the tempo on offense, get on the break and score points. It really just depends on the night. If we have to clamp down on defense we will. If we have to put the ball in the hole we can.”
Summit has shown an impressive knack for winning close games and making comebacks.
In November, the Spartans beat Riverdale 62-58 in double overtime.
In January, Summit defeated Independence and Franklin in overtime.
“They have a lot of weapons,” Franklin guard Reese Glover said. “I mean, it’s really hard to guard John Carter, Tai Carter, the big man – Demontay, the other guard, Jaden Lewis. It’s just tough to guard all of them at one time. They’re definitely one of the best teams we’ve played this year.”
With Summit down by one point, John Carter buried a 3-pointer with two seconds left in a 48-46 win over Brentwood on Jan. 3.
The 10th-ranked Bruins built a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in the rematch, but the Spartans rallied for a 63-61 win on Tai Carter’s layup with .8 second left on Tuesday.
“You can’t let him penetrate like that or he’ll shred your defense,” Brentwood forward Reed Smith said.
John Carter showed his toughness after spraining his left ankle in the Independence win.
“Before we could get to the bus it had swollen to the point where he couldn’t walk and we had to carry him to the bus,” Goodwin said. “Then we heard he was going to be out potentially three to four weeks and for him to come back seven days later and scored 25 points against a very good Brentwood team was kind of mind-boggling.”
Juniors Tai Carter (9 ppg, 3 apg) and Lewis (14 ppg, 3 apg) share the point guard duties. Forward Wade Lopiccolo (9 ppg, 6 rpg), a 6-1 senior, is the fifth starter.
“We try to get out on our fast break real quick, so we can push out and then keep the game fast,” Tai Carter said. “Our goal is the state.”
Summit, a sixth-year program, is seeking its first district title.
The Spartans’ only losses were a one-point defeat to Hillsboro on Nov. 26 and a 72-51 setback to nationally-ranked Hamilton Heights on Jan. 16.
Summit faces a grueling week with Franklin on Tuesday, Centennial on Wednesday, Independence on Friday and Division II’s top-ranked Brentwood Academy on Saturday at Lipscomb University.
“That schedule is going to be rough, playing four games in five days,” Goodwin said. “We want to simulate a tournament atmosphere. We tried to set up our schedule to be tough and not be a cupcake schedule. We don’t want to have an excuse when we get to the end that this is something we haven’t experienced.”
Goodwin, 32, coached Summit’s girls for the previous three years after coaching Sycamore’s boys and girls for two seasons.
He was a 6-3 guard at Harpeth, where he graduated in 2002. The Indians won three district titles and made three Class AA Sectional appearances while he was there.
He was a Mr. Basketball finalist as a junior and senior.
“He’s a good mentor to us, teaching us a lot of the ins and outs of the game and we’re all truly appreciative to have a coach as good as him,” Lewis said.
Goodwin went on to play at Belmont, which made its first two NCAA Tournament appearances against UCLA in 2006 and Georgetown in 2007 during his final two seasons.
UCLA and Georgetown both made it to the Final Four after beating Belmont in the first round.
“I think there were four or five NBA players on both of those teams, so you kind of get to see the level that those guys are at and compete with them,” Goodwin said.
His wife, Kari, coaches Summit’s girls.
“Basketball is a passion we both share and we’ve been able to use each other as a sounding board,” Goodwin said.
He believes the formula for success this season has been a combination of mental and physical toughness.
“We focus on one play at a time and not looking ahead to the future, and making sure that every game is treated the way we would treat a championship game,” said Goodwin, who thinks the comeback wins have strengthened the team bond. “We believe in ourselves, we believe in each other.”