College Basketball

Heartbeating 2006

They say death smiles on us all; all we can do is smile back.

We all missed the greatest storyline of 2006.The heartbeat of sports expands and contracts in the city streets.  

The Little League fields that line them, backed neatly into one another like horizontal Lincoln Logs.  The multi-purpose grasses that provide theatrical templates for aspiring soccer, football or lacrosse youth to perform scene changes and get their work (and games) in.  The cracked blacktop, bleached by the sun and outlined in chalk, encompassed by chain link.  

And the streets themselves, home runs and out-routes marked not in feet or yards, but by Buick bumpers.

That heartbeat bleeds into the winding rural roads of single stoplight towns, never-ending rows of corn or wide-open oil fields the backdrop.  A captivating rhythm, ball bouncing on paved road or dusty, dried dirt.  An intoxicating sound, rawhide on metal, echoing off a building’s facade or through endless mountain air.

A supernatural feeling: gliding over the ice, into the end zone, around the bases.  

But for every child’s heart that beats, and every mind that dreams of “making it,” there’s a million who won’t.  It’s not just a sad state of naysaying odds; it’s an absolute fact.  

And even the ones who get drafted or sign as free agents, we’re still talking thousands-to-one who become headline news.  At least for the right reasons.  

For every chosen one (see: LeBron), there’s a thousand Sebastian Telfairs.  And a handful of Marbury brothers.

Every stargazing farmhand that aspires to be Larry Bird will be lucky to even approach Damon Bailey status.

Even famous professional families have a pecking order at the dinner table; the Bonds, Alou, Griffey and Ripken households each have clearly defined hierarchies come chow time.

Which makes what Jamie Dixon and his sister Maggie had special by its very definition.  For theirs was a relationship forged not of sibling rivalry, but rather, each readily distinguishing the other as the better player, coach and person.

Jamie, the men’s head basketball coach at Pitt who’s taken the Panthers to the Big East title game in two of his first three seasons, and his sister Maggie, the first-year women’s head coach at Army who led the Black Knights to the Patriot League title and their first ever NCAA tournament appearance last year didn’t make it to “the show.”

Not as players.

Jamie came close, starring collegiately at TCU, where his half-court buzzer-beater defeated Texas for the Southwestern Conference championship.  In 1987, Dixon paced the SWC in assists and earned all-conference honors.  He played professionally for the CBA’s Lacrosse Catbirds and overseas in New Zealand, but his career was cut short after an on-court collision resulted in a ruptured pancreas that nearly ended his life.  

Maggie earned four varsity hoops letters at The University of San Diego, where she was voted “Most Improved Player” following her junior campaign and captained the Toreros as a senior.  

Both served apprenticeships in the coaching ranks (Jamie at UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii and Northern Arizona, Maggie at DePaul) where they honed recruiting skills and displayed a knack for keying turnarounds in middling programs.

And last March, they became the first sibling tandem to lead their teams into March Madness during the same season.  

They made it.  Together.  As coaches.

Five weeks ago, Maggie died suddenly after suffering an arrhythmia episode.  She would have turned 29 on Tuesday.  

In a raw twist of fate and emotion, it took the cessation of Maggie Dixon’s heartbeat for the world to recognize the greatest storyline of 2006.

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