Among the 4,215 fans on hand for South Florida's home game against Alabama-Birmingham on Jan. 8 were Narcis Pavlov, a Pinellas Park, Fla., hotel worker, and his 19-year-old son, Ernesto. The Pavlovs had come to thank Jimmy Baxter, the Bulls' 6' 5" junior swingman, who had pulled them from a car wreck on Dec. 12. The postgame reunion was filmed by a CBS camera crew, which had accompanied the Pavlovs to shoot footage for an "American Hero" segment of The Early Show that aired on Jan. 23. "It made me feel good to see them—especially alive," Baxter says. "I'm just glad I could help."
Baxter was heading to St. Petersburg in a torrential downpour when he saw the Pavlovs' 1988 Chevrolet Corsica hydroplane off Interstate 275, flip over and land in a ditch. Baxter pulled over, ran to their car and, seeing that they were trapped and their car was filling with water and smoke, unsuccessfully tried to kick in the rear window. Baxter then ran back to the highway and flagged down a driver, who had a crowbar in his small truck. It took Baxter three swings to bash in the Pavlovs' rear window, and he pulled both men out just before the car filled with water. For saving the Pavlovs, Baxter was given a commendation by the Tampa city council. In November, Baxter had also chased away an assailant who was choking a woman near Baxter's Tampa apartment.
On the court Baxter was second in scoring (15.2 points a game) and assists (2.5) through Sunday for the Bulls, who were 10-8 (3-4 in Conference USA), but he has a brighter future as a high jumper. (He is the reigning two-time Conference USA champ in the event.) Baxter says he has not had any nightmares about what happened on Dec. 12, but the incident had a profound impact on him. At Baxter's behest his fianc�e, Monica Thompson, calls him every day after she drops off their daughter (Jadaja, six months) at day care and arrives at her job as a fourth-grade teacher in Tampa. "I know she has to fight a lot of bad traffic to get to her school," Baxter says. "This has made me really cherish my family and be thankful for what I have. You never know when your time is going to come."