Juan Dixon had an outstanding high school career as a guard at Calvert Hall in Baltimore. After that, he led Maryland to a national championship and went on to play seven seasons in the NBA.
Now, he's ready to face his next basketball challenge -- being a collegiate head coach.
The University of the District of Columbia named Dixon its women's basketball coach in mid-October, giving the 38-year-old his first college head coaching job. He took over just a few weeks before the Firebirds began the 2016-17 season, but that's not bothering Dixon.
"I feel like it was meant to be," Dixon said. "I feel like it was meant to happen. This is my dream. I'm going to be sure to do it at a high level. I'm here to lead, to teach, to mentor and to help prepare for life."
Those are the thoughts director of athletics Patricia Thomas expressed when announcing Dixon's hiring a few weeks ago.
"There is no question Juan Dixon will take our women's basketball program to the next level," she said. "His tremendous success as a student-athlete -- as well as professionally -- combined with his respect for the development of students, supports our goals. I am excited about the opportunity to work with Juan."
Dixon comes to UDC after serving as a special assistant to Maryland men's head coach Mark Turgeon for the past three seasons. His contract was not renewed after the 2015-16 season, which opened the door for this job after former UDC head coach DeWayne Burroughs left to take over the same role at his alma mater, Coppin State.
"This is an outstanding opportunity for Juan," Turgeon said. "He has a great knowledge, passion and understanding of the game. All his experience in both the college and professional game will help in developing him into a good basketball coach. Juan is a strong communicator and will have a very bright future."
At Maryland, Dixon worked among Turgeon's staff on game plans and strategies at both ends of the floor, and he helped a number of players. He viewed his time at Maryland as a learning opportunity for growing into a head coach and understanding what is needed to run a program. He had high praise for Turgeon.
"It prepared me more than anything else I've experienced in life," Dixon said. "I learned from one of the best coaches in the country how to run a program. He's just a great man. He's just a great family man. He cares about his kids."
Dixon said he learned the importance of treating players with dignity and care. Turgeon did a lot of small things that caught Dixon's attention. For example, when the team traveled, Turgeon made sure the players went to nice restaurants to eat, and not just grab a sandwich somewhere.
"He made it about his players," Dixon said. "He came from an amazing coaching tree. It goes on and on."
Dixon will use the players-first philosophy on his UDC teams. He wants his players to have fun while learning about basketball and life.
It's important to Dixon to teach about both because the games will end one day, so players need to learn lessons they can carry with them off the basketball court.
"Every day, it's all about their success. It's all about their development," he said. "And I'm not saying I'm right all the time. I feel as though I've learned, it's not about the coach, it's about the players. We teach at a high level. Our message is getting through while they're having a ton of fun."
Dixon knows how to play the game while having a ton of fun. That often happened, since he found so much success on the court.
He's still the all-time leading scorer at Maryland (2,269 points), and a bunch of those points came while leading the Terps to their only national title during 2001-02 season. Dixon was named the Most Outstanding Player in the 2002 NCAA Final Four as well as ACC Player of the Year.
Dixon twice earned All-America honors, three first-team All-ACC selections as well as two berths on the All-ACC Tournament teams.
The Washington Wizards picked Dixon in the first round of the 2002 NBA Draft (No. 17 overall), and the guard played with them for three years before signing with Portland, Toronto, Detroit and returning to D.C. one last time in 2008-09.
Dixon said he'll likely have some similarities to the coach he's best known for playing for -- Hall of Famer Gary Williams. He joked he won't sweat through his suits on the sidelines like Williams but is looking forward to doing the job his former coach did so well for so long.
"I'm very blessed and very fortunate to have played for a Hall of Fame coach who understood what it took to be successful," Dixon said. "He understands what it took to grind and work and work hard. I'm going to follow in the same footsteps. I'm going to grind, and I'm loving my experience working with the young ladies at UDC."
Issue 227: November 2016