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Baltimore's Juan Dixon Puts Coppin Back on the Map

Keith Allison/flickr

Some things in life, and in sports, for that matter, make so much sense you wonder why no one thought of it before.

The reported move of Coppin State University to name Juan Dixon as its men’s basketball coach makes so much sense for both sides that some will no doubt ask, why didn’t this happen before?

Dixon may be as famous a basketball figure to emerge from Baltimore in decades. He was a high school star at Calvert Hall before heading to College Park and the University of Maryland.

All he did there was lead the Terps to their first two Final Four appearances and a national title in 2002. Dixon left Maryland as the program’s all-time leading scorer.

From there, Dixon had a modest NBA career, split between four teams, including the Washington Wizards, who drafted him in the first round in the 2002-03 season.

Dixon played overseas for a time, then returned home where he landed a spot as a special assistant at his alma mater, Maryland, with coach Mark Turgeon.

He left the Maryland program after three seasons and spent last year as the women’s head coach at the University of the District of Columbia.

Those are admittedly dry recitations on a basketball resume. None of those listings speak to the thing that distinguishes Juan Dixon, namely his outsized heart.

Dixon is listed on his basketball bio page at 6-foot-3 and 164 pounds, but you should believe that in the same sense that you would believe those dimensions of, say, Charles Barkley.

In other words, you shouldn’t. Dixon was an undersized guard who worked for every single thing he got on the basketball court. He was a star in high school, but was largely unheralded when he got to Maryland.

But under the tutelage of then coach Gary Williams, himself a scrappy Maryland point guard, Dixon left College Park as an All-America.

It was at the NBA level where Dixon hit his ceiling, not proficient enough a scorer to play one guard position and not quite as accomplished as a ball handler to play the other.

And yet, on some skill, but mainly on grit and determination, Dixon cobbled out a seven-year NBA career, earning more than $12 million during that time.

And, as if that weren’t enough, Juan Dixon has overcome more heartache and turmoil in his lifetime than most people have in two. Juan lost both of his parents to AIDS-related deaths when he was teenager, and he was raised by his extended family.

Coppin State officials, who recently fired Michael Grant after three years, have seen a once proud program slip into irrelevance, as the Eagles have won fewer than 10 games in four of the last five seasons.

They’re looking for someone that can not only make people notice their team, but also for someone that Baltimore, a scrappy city that takes to its hometown heroes, can care about.

They could hardly do better than Juan Dixon.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via e-mail with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.