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Pitt coach brings everyday faith to NCAAs

BOSTON (BP)–At the East Regional in the historic Boston Garden Thursday night, Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon led the Panthers basketball team to the NCAA Elite Eight for their first time in 35 years.

However, after a down-to-the-wire 60-55 win over Xavier, Dixon took time to emphasize the importance of his personal faith amid the mix of emotions about what he had just achieved.

“My faith helps set my values … and I seek to live those on a daily basis,” said Dixon, now in his sixth year as head coach at Pitt.

“My parents helped install my faith and values, but being involved in Athletes in Action, even for a short period of time, was very important,” he added.

Dixon was born in California and grew up in New York surrounded by strong faith role models and was active in his church.

He attended Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, on a basketball scholarship, leading the Horned Frogs to Southwest Conference titles in 1986 and ’87. After his senior season in ’87, he went on a mission trip with Athletes in Action, an evangelical sports ministry — a time he described as a significant spiritual marker in his life. He spent several weeks in New Zealand that summer, playing basketball, sharing with others about the sport and about faith, and learning from other Christians, like current University of Washington Huskies men’s head coach Lorenzo Romar.

Since becoming Pitt’s 14th men’s hoops head coach, he has burst into the ranks of basketball’s coaching elite but has stayed grounded in faith and family.

While leading the Panthers to four Big East conference titles, Dixon has remained active in church and in Pittsburgh-area community organizations and charity events. In 2004, he was named Person of the Year by the local YMCA. The father of two children under the age of 5, with his wife, Jacqueline, Dixon hosts an annual father-child breakfast which he began in his church and now has become a community-wide event.

But his life was turned upside down in 2007 when his sister Maggie, the women’s head basketball coach at West Point, died of a heart attack after taking her team to the NCAA tournament only days earlier.

It was Dixon who first went to New York after his sister collapsed at West Point and later had to tell his parents that their daughter had passed away.

Yet, despite such a tragic loss, he didn’t lose his perspective of faith.

“I think there is a reason and a purpose for everything,” Dixon said. “I want to see some purpose and meaning in her life.”

In the high-pressure Division I college basketball world, a successful coach like Dixon has become a hot commodity, being courted by various schools, often at a much higher salary. But he has turned them down for now, remaining loyal to his current job, his players and his family.

Now standing on the verge of college basketball’s highest platform, Dixon said he is “fortunate to have been brought up with faith and with values from my family. Now I’m seeking to live that out every day.”

Regarded as one of the fastest rising coaches in college basketball, Dixon, 44, is the third-fastest ever to win 100 games in NCAA Division I competition. The top-seeded Panthers will play for their first-ever berth in the NCAA Final Four against Villanova on Saturday night.
Art Stricklin is a Baptist Press sports correspondent based in Dallas.

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