Death of sister hits Jamie Dixon hard
Last Friday, I saw Maggie Dixon with her brother Jamie, the Pittsburgh head coach, at the Final Four.
One week ago.
Today, there was a memorial service for her at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the site of her greatest professional triumph. She died Thursday evening after suffering a heart arrhythmia Wednesday afternoon. She was 28.
I'm having a hard time understanding the cruelty of life when someone is taken away so fast. Maggie Dixon was as full of life as anyone I have ever known, but she apparently had a time bomb ticking inside her -- one that no one knew about.
I remember the first time I met Maggie. I was sitting with Jamie and Gonzaga coach Mark Few at a restaurant on Rush Street in Chicago after watching the day's events at the NBA pre-draft camp last June. Maggie, then an assistant at DePaul, came to meet us. A tall, striking woman, she came upon us sitting at an outside table. She was engaging. She had an infectious smile. And she was so proud to be sitting next to her brother, as was he to be near her.
I've spoken to Jamie countless times on the phone for years, from his time at Hawaii, then Northern Arizona, and now Pitt. We have a strong working relationship. He's a good friend, something that's OK to say even though I cover him and the sport. He knows I have a job to do and there are times when he doesn't agree with everything I write or say.
The one topic that we could always agree on, though, was how well his sister was doing at Army. He mentioned that he would go to see her at West Point whenever he was recruiting in New York. The two were extremely close. They loved to talk basketball and he was overjoyed with her achievements this season, having encouraged her all along the way.
I'll always remember the Big East tournament, the night Pitt beat Louisville in the first round. Jamie was done with the media at the news conference and walked off the podium. He saw me and the first thing he said was, "Did you hear Maggie won and they carried her off the court!" He was referring to Maggie's Black Knights, who had beaten Holy Cross earlier in the evening to win the Patriot League tournament and clinch Army's first-ever bid to the women's NCAA Tournament.
Forget about beating Louisville and advancing in the Big East tournament. All he could think about was Maggie. He said his wife and parents had been at Maggie's game earlier in the day. He was thrilled to learn Maggie would be watching the Panthers for the remainder of the Big East tournament. For the rest of the weekend, she was right there, right behind Jamie's bench. She had his back, like he always had hers.
Army drew perennial power Tennessee and was out in the first round. When it came time to choose where to go for the Final Four, Maggie was with Jamie and his wife and two children in Indianapolis at the men's event rather than being in Boston at the women's. She was chatting up plenty of coaches throughout the weekend in Indy. I remember talking to her about Army's season that night. She must have been doing the same with the myriad coaches who came up to congratulate her.
Jamie was with her Wednesday morning because he had to recruit in New York on Tuesday. Jamie said Friday that after he left her, Maggie went to visit -- and comfort -- a friend who had just lost her job. That's when she collapsed.
"She was thinking of someone else," Jamie said.
Jamie had headed to Norfolk, Va., to watch his former point guard Carl Krauser play in the Portsmouth Invitational, but he was on a plane back to New York within hours of landing after hearing of Maggie's collapse. At least he was with her on the day she died.
The vision of Jamie and Maggie walking up a ramp, out of the restaurant last Friday night is stuck in my mind. I still see her and Jamie. They were smiling and laughing. They were on top of the sport, becoming the first-ever brother-sister combination to coach in NCAA Tournaments at the same time.
On Thursday, Jamie lost his close friend and sibling. I spoke with him Wednesday before she died. I talked to him again Friday, prior to the memorial service. I heard the pain in his voice. I can't imagine the sorrow.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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