Juan Dixon still trains like he plays basketball, even though his NBA career ended in 2009. He still lifts weights and, trust him when he says this, “I’ve been playing basketball in my head the last three years.”
Dixon was officially hired on Wednesday as a special assistant Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon. It’s a new challenge for the 35-year-old, not dissimilar to the one he faced as an unheralded freshman point guard in the late 1990s when he arrived in College Park to play under Gary Williams.
Everyone knows how that story ended. Dixon broke the program’s all-time scoring record, led the Terrapins to the 2002 national title and cemented himself as one of Maryland’s most beloved athletes ever. At last month’s Maryland Madness event, Dixon received a standing ovation. The cheer was deafening.
But even as Dixon continued his playing career, eventually reaching the NBA where he spent seven seasons with four teams, the allure of coaching always tugged at him. Once he realized playing was no longer an option, he began lobbying Turgeon for a job on the Maryland staff five or six months ago.
“I told Coach that coaching in college was definitely the route I wanted to take,” Dixon said on a teleconference after his hire was announced. “I told him that I wanted to be at a position to give back and help the kids. That was my main focus, was to get in college basketball because I wanted to help the kids and help them become not only better basketball players but better people and help them prepare for life.”
Before hiring Dixon, Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s insisted that he finish his undergraduate degree in family sciences. Dixon withdrew from school after the 2002 national title, so he never graduated. Now he’s “only an exam” away in a family research class, but shrugged off the idea that it was somehow a motivational carrot.
“I have two young boys and I’m trying to set an example,” Dixon said. “This is something I should have gotten out of the way a long time ago.”
With long-term goals of running a college program, Dixon said he has noticed the success both Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie, both former NBA players, have enjoyed at their first head coaching stops. But Dixon will start on the ground floor, overseeing the team’s academics, scouting future opponents and mentoring players to, he said, impart his passion upon them.
A Baltimore native, Dixon also expressed enthusiasm over helping lure local talent to College Park. He isn’t officially one of the team’s three assistant coaches, so he cannot recruit on the road, per NCAA rules. But there’s nothing against trotting him out whenever someone visits campus.
“I’m going to take advantage of it anyway I can,” he said. “If I can help get a young kid from Baltimore who’s familiar with the University of Maryland and familiar with Juan Dixons back in the early 2000s, that’d be great. If a guy comes on campus, and I can say a few words to him, that’s awesome also.”
Dixon’s biggest challenge might be keeping quiet during games. All those seasons has strengthened his knowledge of basketball, but he will sit behind the players alongside Maryland’s graduate assistants, only expected to speak when asked. Establishing this role, Turgeon said, was key during the hiring process.
“If he asks for any advice or for me to give my input, I will,” Dixon said of Turgeon. “But I’m just going to be supporting the coaches, supporting the players throughout the course of the game. If I’m called upon, I’ll speak. If not, I’ll sit on my hands and watch Coach Turgeon do a good job on the sideline.”
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