Amherst College’s Dave Hixon one of five coaches being inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame
|Published: 08-11-2023 7:11 PM
UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The five coaches that will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday represent nearly every wrung of the profession. They’ve combined to win 4,856 games among them.
Amherst College’s Dave Hixon spent 42 years leading his alma mater, transforming it into a Division 3 powerhouse.
Gregg Popovich is the NBA’s all-time victories leader has won 1,366 games and counting and led Team USA to a gold medal. He was an assistant coach in the NBA, at the Division 1 college level and led Division 3 Pomona-Pitzer in the early 1980s.
Gene Bess amassed 1,300 victories – the most in college basketball history – at Three Rivers Community College over 50 years.
Gene Keady stamped his ‘Play Hard’ motto on Purdue and turned the Boilermakers into national contenders.
Gary Blair worked his way up the women’s coaching ladder and turned Texas A&M into a national champion in 2011, upending the upper crust of blue bloods.
As different as their backgrounds are, they’re all Hall of Famers for the impacts they made on people’s lives on the court but mostly off of it.
“I never was at the mercy of the feeling like I had to be friend to a player but they knew I loved them. They were the most important people in my life,” Bess said. “I tried to be fair and I really expected great things out of my players.”
Popovich pointed to the discipline he learned during his time at the Air Force Academy.
“I learned a lot about discipline, about day to day work about understanding that you don’t really accomplish anything alone,” he said.
He took a sabbatical from Pomona-Pitzer in the mid-’80s and visited Larry Brown at Kansas and Dean Smith at North Carolina. Popovich watched Smith and how he kept in touch with his players.
“He kept track of everybody. He’d write handwritten notes to the people and find out how they’re doing. He was aware of everyone that had gone through the program,” Popovich said. “That’s what sustains is as we go through life. I don’t go to bed and think about 3-point shots.”
That distinction might have been most pronounced for Hixon at Amherst College, one of the nation’s top liberal arts schools with an acceptance rate south of 10%. He needed to mold players not just or basketball careers but for their time as doctors, lawyers and business leaders.
“We worked really hard every day two hours in practice and put a lot of time and effort into it and that translated over,” Hixon said.
Other coaches at Amherst sought him out for his expertise. Three of his players are Division 3 head coaches now.
“I think a lot of people talk to me as younger coaches and I get a chance to mentor people into creating the same sort of stuff that we did, which that’s my legacy,” Hixon said.
Coaching looks differently than when each of the inductees began. There’s more voices and opinions about how to do it. In some cases there’s more money. The path to being a good coach, and what a good coach means remains similar.
“You have to find your comfort level and work hard, all the things that translate into other jobs. I don’t think coaching’s so unique as it is different than being on Wall Street. You’ve got to decide what you want to do and work toward it,” Hixon said. “As a coach, you’ve got to do the work. It doesn’t come easy. As young coaches, you might be working for almost nothing. Then you get a break, and you’ve got to outwork everybody in that program, get another break and then you move.”
At least that’s his advice for others.
“I never moved,” Hixon said. “I stayed with my first break. That’s how fortunate I was.”Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.