A few years ago I remember hearing that West Point was going to the NCAA tournament. All of a sudden. Out of the blue. And wIth a women's team no less. Whoa, did they have enough double-X chromosomes at the Academy to field an entire team?
It sounded like some kind of a miracle. A new coach had come in and things just started happening. So I figured maybe we were in for another Pat Summitt dynasty, only this time at a military academy. Then, not too much later, I read that West Point's amazing, young female coach, who had turned around a program in a mere six months, had suddenly collapsed and died. A heart arrhythmia or something.
After that I didn't hear anything else about her. Until last night.
Last night ESPN did one of their up close and personal profiles on a coach for one of the top men's teams in this year's NCAA tournament -- Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh. I don't think he's been at Pitt that long, but he's made an impact. Certainly on me. I don't recall Pitt ever being ranked number one during the season before. Even if they have been, this year is the first time the Panthers have been seeded Number One in their bracket. It's like they came out of nowhere. Keep in mind that the games I usually follow are the ones when Duke is playing North Carolina, since I spent time in Durham as a Devil with a Blue Dress on.
Jamie Dixon is one of those too short white guys, whose fierce determination and hard won skills in high school earned him a place on a Division I team in college. That same work ethic at Texas Christian managed to get him noticed by the pros.
After he suffered a freak accident [burst pancreas] playing in Europe, Dixon went into coaching. Pitt has always been better known for its football than its basketball. Not any more. In his short time at the school, Dixon seems to be taking the basketball team way past its usual expiration date.
I haven't even checked their stats, but I bet Pitt is like Kentucky was the year the Wildcats lost to Duke in the regional finals. I was actually rooting for Kentucky to make the final four that night because I wasn't a big fan of that particular Duke team, as good as it was.
As individuals, the Kentucky players -- who lost to Duke with less than a second left -- weren't shining stars. Name one. But together they became a team that lit up the court like a super nova. Naturally, that's something only a coach like Rick Pitino could pull off. But even he was astounded by his group of way over achievers, so much so that he had the jerseys of four starters from that team retired. Even though they had never won a championship. Now he's at Louisville with another great team, ranked as the overall Number One.
I think from what I've seen of this year's Pitt team and the ESPN interview, Jamie Dixon has the same kind of magic dust Rick Pitino has. He makes players believe. It's possible that Pitt could meet Louisville in this year's finala.
But, as much as I admire Rick Pitino coaching skills, my heart belongs to Pittsburgh this year. I think Jamie Dixon could take his team all the way. Not just because he's a great coach who has built a fine program and knows how to motivate his players. But because winning it all is something I'm sure his little sister, Maggie, would have done at West Point, if she'd only had the opportunity. All she needed was a little more time. With that in mind, I'm sure her older brother will make the most of his.