Southeast Point Guard Nixon Plays Through Chronic Back Pain
Feb. 1, 2008
CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO. -
By Marty Mishow, Special to the Southeast Missourian
Tarina Nixon, in her soft-spoken and polite way, said she doesn't see herself as one of the toughest basketball players around.
So it's up to Nixon's coaches and teammates to give testimony about the physical and mental toughness of Southeast Missouri State's junior point guard.
Southeast head coach John Ishee said the pain from lingering back problems that Nixon endures during games and practices would send most players to the sidelines.
"Sometimes I don't really know how she gets out there, because you can see how much pain she's in," Ishee said. "She's the ultimate warrior. She is one of the toughest players I've ever coached."
Senior center Missy Whitney, Southeast's leading scorer and rebounder, said she and the other Redhawks sympathize with what Nixon has to go through to get on the court.
"I feel sorry for her because I've had a back problem in the past, and it's tough to get over," Whitney said. "During games, in practice, outside of practice, she has to put up with it.
"She's pretty tough. I'm proud of her."
Nixon has been a starter since her freshman season at Southeast, which is chasing its third consecutive Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
The 5-foot-6 Nixon said her back problems began toward the end of her freshman campaign, but really worsened last year.
Nixon has seen various doctors about the ailment, but so far to no avail.
"I was told it was some kind of a disc problem," she said. "After the season, I'm going to really try and pinpoint what it is, because I'm concerned and my parents are concerned."
Nixon played in considerable pain much of last year, and that again is the case this season.
In fact, Nixon missed just about all of preseason practice, in addition to sitting out one game early in the campaign and seeing limited action during a few others.
But Nixon has gutted things out most of the way, especially once OVC play started. She is tied for first in the league in minutes played during conference games with an average of 37.
"For the most part, I block it out," Nixon said. "I've gotten used to playing with it. And the last few weeks, I've been doing a lot better."
Even to the casual observer, the pain on Nixon's face is apparent as she gingerly walks around after games.
Nixon said she ices her back after every contest, and also gets various treatments before and after games.
She said she always sleeps with a heating pad, which she also tries to use on bus rides following road games.
"After games is usually when I hurt the most, and the next morning," Nixon said. "The long bus rides are tough, and sleeping is tough. I have trouble getting adjusted and comfortable."
Not that Nixon would ever consider giving in to the pain.
"I'm used to it. I don't want to quit playing, so I just suck it up," she said.
Nixon's back problems haven't affected her performance on the court.
After starting the season slowly, Nixon has been playing like one of the OVC's top guards -- which is what Ishee thought she was the past two seasons.
Nixon has scored in double figures in eight of Southeast's 11 OVC games after reaching double figures in just two nonconference contests.
Among OVC leaders
While averaging 10.5 points per game overall, Nixon's average in conference play is 13.5, which ranks second on the team and 12th in the OVC. During her last five games, Nixon has averaged nearly 18 points.
Nixon also ranks high in many other OVC statistical categories during conference play, including fourth in steals per game (2.18), sixth in assists per game (4.0), seventh in free-throw percentage (87.5), ninth in 3-pointers made per game (1.64) and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"Tarina is playing at such a high level right now," Ishee said. "She's the glue to our team, the engine that makes us go. Because of her game experience, she's like a coach on the floor."
Nixon, who recently moved up to fourth in school history for made career 3-pointers with 112, also played a key role on Southeast's past two teams that captured OVC regular-season and tournament crowns.
Last season, Nixon led the Redhawks in minutes played, steals and assists, while also averaging 11 points and ranking among the OVC leaders in several categories.
As a true freshman in 2005-2006, Nixon was the only non-senior starter on Southeast's first OVC championship and NCAA tournament squad.
Nixon played more of a supporting role that season, averaging just 5.6 points, but she was third in the OVC in 3-point field-goal percentage. She was second in the league in 3-point shooting last year at better than 40 percent for the second straight season.
"Tarina comes up with big plays time after time in big games," Ishee said. "She can do just about everything on the basketball court."
Yet despite all that Nixon has accomplished so far at Southeast, Ishee takes issue with the fact she has never received any all-conference recognition, although that could change this season.
"To me, that just shows there's not a whole lot of people who know what she means to our program," Ishee said. "There's not a better guard in the OVC.
"Not only is she one of the toughest players I've ever coached, she's the most underrated. I think she could get minutes at any program in the country.
"I wouldn't trade her for any other point guard in the conference, or in the country."
Nixon, a native of Gilbert, Ariz., near Phoenix, often has said that individual recognition doesn't mean much to her. She repeated that Thursday.
"It doesn't bother me. I'm all about the team," Nixon said. "I know my teammates recognize me, and that's really all that matters to me."
Nixon, who is majoring in recreation with a minor in social work, also has excelled in the classroom by earning Southeast Scholar-Athlete and OVC Commissioner's Honor Roll recognition.
"She's just a consummate winner, on the floor and in the classroom," Ishee said.
Nixon said she is contemplating a career as a pilot -- "That probably surprises people, but I would like to do something in aviation," she said -- but first has plenty of basketball still ahead of her.
On the immediate horizon is helping the Redhawks three-peat as OVC champions. At 14-6 overall and 9-2 in league play, Southeast is in a solid position to pull it off.
"It's a great feeling to know I started for the [program[']s] first OVC championship team, and to win three straight would be very exciting," Nixon said. "We try to say we're not thinking about it, and we try to take it one day at a time.
"But to win three straight ... that would be so unbelievable."