Juan Dixon is no stranger to NCAA basketball. He became a college superstar with Maryland, leading the program to its only national championship in 2002. After a seven-year NBA career, he returned home to the Terrapins and served as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Now, he is taking his knowledge and skills to the University of the District of Columbia as the head coach of its women’s basketball team.
Dixon rose to great heights as a Terrapin. His four-year career would conclude as Maryland’s all-time leading scorer with 2,269 points and raising the 2001-02 National Championship trophy alongside other Maryland greats of lore like Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Byron Mouton and Chris Wilcox. He also played his entire career under one of the ACC’s — and NCAA’s — greatest coaches in its history.
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“Back in ’97, when Coach Williams and his staff recruited me, he gave me an amazing opportunity,” Dixon said. “One thing I learned from him is he always believed, no matter what. He was a fighter, a competitor, and his mindset trickled down to his players. Every time we took the floor we wanted to win for Coach Williams, and we would do anything for him. To this day, I lean on him. He’s a mentor, and he’s helping me make this transition. He has been very instrumental in my success.”
He would parlay his first-team All-American senior season into becoming an NBA first-rounder, selected 17th overall by the Washington Wizards. His first season with the Wizards also happened to be the last season of Michael Jordan. Jordan took Dixon under his wing and instilled valuable lessons Dixon still holds valuable today.
“How important communication is on both ends of the floor, and how important screening is, not only to get your teammate open, but yourself open,” Dixon said. “Those are two things as a head coach I stress everyday.”
Dixon ended his seven-year NBA career with very respectable numbers. He played for four different teams during his tenure, averaging 8.4 points, 1.8 assists and 1.9 rebounds a game as both a point and shooting guard. Once he decided to unlace the sneakers for the last time, he turned to coaching.
“It was a head coaching opportunity I felt I was ready for,” Dixon said of his opportunity at UDC. “The last three years I worked under Coach Turgeon, who I felt did things at a high level on and off the floor, so I felt like I was prepared. Getting this opportunity to lead, to coach, to mentor and to teach, I just had to take advantage of. Being able to stay at home close to my family, being in DC where I played many years, I felt everything had come full circle. I’ve been looking forward to this for many years, and now I have an amazing opportunity at UDC.”
One of the bigger challenges for Dixon has been adapting to the game of women’s basketball as opposed to men’s. The speed and athleticism are not necessarily any better nor worse, but they certainly have different attributes in the style of play that takes some adjusting.
“It’s not as fast, and we’re not able to play above the rim,” Dixon said. “But we are focusing on the details and the little things that will allow us to excel on both ends of the floor. It’s a challenge every day, but I’m enjoying it and being a part of Division II as well.”
Dixon is a mere 38 years of age, young in the ranks of some of these veteran coaches in DII. While the former Terrapin great may be young in number, he is more mature and wiser in his years due to the many experiences and different walks of life in the basketball world.
“It’s young for a head coach in college basketball, but I have a ton of basketball experience,” Dixon said. “I’ve played for many great coaches, watching other great coaches from afar. My expectations were to just come in and do my job, teach at a high level, help these young ladies develop on and off the floor and help prepare them for life.”
Dixon’s career didn’t start off as well as he may have liked. The Firebirds dropped their first four games of the season. Tuesday night, on the road, they finally found their way into the win column, defeating Lincoln University in a 65-63 nail-biter. Freshman guard, and Firebirds leading scorer, Nyasia Anderson led the charge, scoring 20 points on the night, while senior Shantrel Oliver chipped in 11 and freshman Dayjah Anderson added 13.
For Dixon and his Firebirds, they’re just getting started.
“It’s been a slow start, but we got our first win at Lincoln,” Dixon said. “So proud of our young ladies. I’ve only had our young ladies at UDC for a little over a month. They’re still getting in better basketball shape, they’re still learning what I’m all about as a coach, and I’m still getting familiar with them. I’m not worried about the slow start. It’s bound to happen. One thing I do appreciate about these young ladies is that they give constant effort. Every time they’re on the floor, they try to execute what I expect of them. I’m not disappointed at all. We’re learning every day, and we were able to get a big win against a pretty good Lincoln team.”