FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon was an assistant under Hawaii coach Riley Wallace.
Dixon tells campers about sister he loved
The Pitt coach recalls how Maggie attended the Rainbow basketball camp as a teenager
In 1993, Maggie Dixon was a high school basketball player at summer camp in Hawaii, eager to learn more about the game. And one of the instructors was her big brother, UH assistant Jamie Dixon.
As he spoke to around 150 youngsters yesterday at the Rainbow Boys and Girls Basketball Camp, Jamie Dixon -- now 40 and the head coach at Pitt -- couldn't help but think back to 13 years ago.
"Do you guys know anything about my sister Maggie? She came out here to camp, too, just like you," Dixon said. "She set an example for a lot of girls. She started right here at this camp."
A few of the kids were familiar with the triumphant and tragic story of Maggie Dixon, the young coach who guided the Army women to their first NCAA tournament appearance last March, only to die suddenly a few weeks later of a heart attack.
The 2005-06 basketball season was a magical one for both Dixons, as the Panthers won their first 17 games and made it to the NCAAs for the third time in three years under Jamie, and Maggie made history for the Black Knights. It was an irresistible March Madness story, the brother and sister colleagues who compared notes daily.
"We spent a lot of time together the last six months, when she was at West Point. (Pitt was) in New York a lot. The last few weeks we were together almost every day," Jamie Dixon said. "It wasn't so much X's and O's. More about players and relationships with players, things like recruiting and scheduling. We talked every night until late. It's always been that way, very close."
Just as their successes were public, so was the Dixon family's tragedy when Maggie died suddenly, April 5.
"I don't think I had a choice," Dixon said.
It is difficult to keep smiling and there's no blueprint for grieving. But Jamie Dixon does his best to keep Maggie's spirit alive.
"I saw the impact Maggie made. Boxes of letters, from here, other places, people I know and don't know," Dixon said. "There were so many different things that made it what it was. West Point, how close our family was. I think that touched a lot of people. A person doing everything right and being successful and having something like that happen, that really opens a lot of eyes and makes people think. Everybody saw it on TV. They saw her being carried around the court, and then ..."
ESPN, Pitt and West Point are trying to arrange a season-opening doubleheader at West Point, Dixon said. Also, several awards and scholarships will be named after Maggie Dixon.
"I think she's really made an impact in a lot of ways. I think a lot of girls and women see what she did at West Point, a male-dominated institution," Dixon said. "It says a lot, especially at a place that doesn't have a long history of women's athletics."
Jamie left his mark at UH.
Rainbows coach Riley Wallace hired Dixon in 1992. In the 1993-94 season, he was instrumental in UH's WAC tournament championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. Dixon coached the guards, including Trevor Ruffin and Jarinn Akana.
"He really worked hard with them and got them to be better shooters," said Wallace of his protégé, who is now one of the nation's top young head coaches (and among the wealthiest). "He's done it right."
But Wallace, never one to spare a playful jab, also pointed out it was Dixon who provided the scouting report for UH's 100-47 season-opening loss to Portland in the Great Alaska Shootout.
"That was a great learning experience," Dixon said. "We had six new players and we ended up going to the NCAA Tournament. I learned that you don't panic and change everything if you start out badly."
Dixon had another brief stint at UH in 1998-99 before joining Ben Howland's staff at Pitt, where he eventually replaced him.
"Coach Wallace was the first one to give me a chance. Talk to anybody, offensively he's considered the best coach in the WAC. The plays, the sets, the different looks. The spacing they use on the floor, the passing, the backdoor cuts. Coaches always talk about how good the stuff is that they run.
"And I learned a lot working with Coach (Bob) Nash and Coach (Jackson) Wheeler," said Dixon, who hopes to bring Pitt to Hawaii for the 2007 Rainbow Classic. "If I hadn't been at the University of Hawaii, we never would've achieved the success we have (at Pitt)."
He also probably wouldn't have met his wife, Punahou graduate Jacqueline. They are here for a class reunion. The Dixons have two children, Jack and Shannon.
Jacqueline's father, Jack Corteway, said he admires Dixon's emotional strength.
"The loss of his sister was devastating to the whole family, and also West Point. The impression she made there was unbelievable," Corteway said. "He's handled it very well although I'm sure it's been extremely difficult."