BASKETBALL: Super coach back in Bay

By ANENDRA SINGH

Type ``Jamie Dixon'' in the Google engine on the internet and the hits speak volumes.
Live interviews on You Tube, how many noughts are likely to be on his salary slip or myriad scribes speculating on when the Pittsburgh University college basketball head coach will cut a track for some big name school like Kentucky or Arizona.
Modern technology has its advantages but what happens when the most talked-about man at the pinnacle of US college basketball coaching comes to life.
The Hawks' US import from the 1989-90 seasons smiles as he greets SportToday at the Westshore Inn in Napier.
The 43-year-old Californian has made a whirlwind trip to catch up with his former Bay teammates and acquaintances after almost two decades.
Dressed smartly in a blue long-sleeved shirt and black pleated slacks, Dixon plants himself in the lounge seat of a self-contained unit at the inn as a heater tries to beat the chill in the room.
But Dixon has an aura that emits warmth of its own. If all the publicity has the potential to corrupt the best there's no signs that Dixon is tainted.
``They wanted me to take the under-23 US team. I said I don't want to be pushed here or anything but I'd rather go with the team (under-19s) that's going down to New Zealand so I can hopefully see some friends,'' he tells SportToday.
After arriving from Auckland at 3.30pm he jetted back at 7am yesterday to be with his players at the Fiba World Championship tournament where they are favourites to win.
``Obviously I have some fond memories of being in New Zealand so I guess, technically, I'd be more honoured to do the older 23s team than the younger one here.''
It was playing in the Bay that he found the passion for coaching from the humble beginnings of the mini-ball and clinics at high schools.
``I was asked to start a team at Te Aute College and so I'substituted' there for about six weeks or a couple of months.
``I loved it.

I obviously did well with the kids and learned so much and saw so many things I wouldn't have seen in the States.
``I wanted to coach and that's what I did. I suppose you never really know until you do it and that was my real first time as a coach.''
Coming with an open mind from Hollywood, California, meant culture shock wasn't an issue.
``My family's from the Bronx in New York and I went to school in Texas so I knew that places were different and I had travelled throughout Europe to play basketball,'' says the son of actor/screen writer Jim, and Marge who now live in Los Angeles.
Having spent two seasons in the Bay, he relished renewing acquaintances with ex-Hawks teammates Dave ``Fritz'' Wright, and Grant Hogan who had visited him in California several years ago. He points out the Henares also met him in Utah.
Taradale High School pupil Dave Finlayson, who he coached, now lives in Wisconsin.
He finds it difficult to narrow his Bay experience to any single moment.
``I think it gave me a bigger view of the world in a lot of ways. I was 21 or 22 and right out of college so I grew a lot as a person.''
Dixon etched his name on the National Basketball League (NBL) silverware in New Zealand as the most outstanding guard, leading individual scorer, the leading assist and making the All-Star Five teams both seasons.
``I would like to think I was the best import as far as working with kids and working with the community would have had a bigger impact than as a player,'' he says.
His playing career ended after injuries in Holland. But not before the Washington Bullets selected him for the 1987 NBA draft.
But it was as university coach that Dixon made an indelible mark.
He has guided the Pittsburgh Panthers as far as the Elite Eight in this year's NCAA men's tournament and was named the Naismith men's coach of the year on the heels of a school-record 31 victories.
But Dixon finds the changes from his halcyon Napier Hill days in the Bay quite dramatic. They didn't go down Westshore way in those days because there was nothing there then.
``Now there are houses, hotels and cafes and restaurants. It's so dramatic because it's such a beautiful area in such a beautiful country,'' he says, aware of the province's prosperity as a wine-growing region.
``It's a different part of the world here. New Zealand people are so much more aware of the rest of the world whereas the United States, you know, are more focused on themselves and their area.''
He's quite content with continuing at the highest level in college basketball.
``I have a great interest in NBA as a game and it really does cross over to a lot of people in many ways but I want to keep Pittsburgh at the highest level of college basketball.
The satisfaction of helping young people develop and move on from down the road to play in the NBA or overseas is rewarding enough. Auckland Stars player Casey Frank, who he coached in northern Arizona, and Aaron Olson are cases in point.
Coaching at the pinnacle of college basketball was far from his mind when he left the Bay. In fact, he first coached at junior college in the US.
``It was a relatively modest living but you're doing what you like to do best _ coaching basketball. So I had no plans to be at the highest level or NBA.
``To me, basketball is the same anywhere _ here, the States or when I trained in the NBA _ because you're competing and trying to be the best team you can be, no matter what level of talent you have or who you are up against.''
So what makes him a great coach?
Great? He laughs.
``I don't know about that. I think it's always been a passion and life. To travel across the world shows how much the game means to you and how much you want to play,'' he says before outlining the importance of passion, hard work, focus, dedication, persistence and a lot of luck.
``I have been very fortunate and we've had a great run because I've been coaching consistently but, yeah, it can change very quickly.
``I don't take it for granted and I understand that in years it can change quickly. So it keeps me working and keeps me striving for better with coaching as a program.''
He's surprised to find Hawks franchise co-owner Jeremy Bayliss, who brought him here, had him chalked in for a few words at Saturday night's dinner.
``I do my speeches off the cuff and talk from my heart. I'll be talking about my experiences this year. I've had such a great experience here 20 years ago but I don't have time for vacations,'' an affable Dixon says with an equally convincing smile.
 

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 01 Oct 2014 23:23:01 Processing Time: 596ms