Army women's coach dies at 28

Dixon had suffered irregular heartbeat

College basketball


Maggie Dixon, who led the Army women's basketball team to the NCAA tournament this season in her first year as a head coach -- duplicating what her older brother, Jamie, had done with the Pittsburgh men's team three years ago -- died Thursday night after suffering heart arrhythmia. She was 28.

A former college basketball player at the University of San Diego who failed a brief tryout with the professional Los Angeles Sparks in 2000, Dixon had no history of illness and, according to her brother, appeared in good health when they had breakfast together at West Point on Wednesday morning.

In a statement issued by the University of Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon reported that his sister "went to the house of a friend for afternoon tea [later Wednesday], where she wasn't feeling good and collapsed."

She immediately was hospitalized on the academy grounds with an "arrhythmic episode," then airlifted to intensive care at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., where she died.

Medical experts confirmed that patients sometimes are unaware of the potentially lethal irregular heartbeat, which killed Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis (Dunbar) during a basketball practice in 1993. An autopsy was due to be performed yesterday.

West Point superintendent Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr. called the Army community "heartbroken" by the news. "From the time Maggie arrived here," he said, "her enthusiastic `no limits' approach earned her the love and respect of everyone."

Dixon had a wildly successful head coaching debut season, with a 20-11 record. When Army won its first Patriot League title one month ago, leading to its first NCAA appearance, Dixon was lifted by cadets and paraded around the West Point gym, then treated to a standing ovation by 4,000 students in the dining hall. Army lost its NCAA first-round game to perennial powerhouse Tennessee.

Dixon was hired at Army six months earlier -- 11 days before the season opener -- after five years in various roles at DePaul. DePaul coach Doug Bruno hired Dixon after she simply walked into his office and introduced herself, and he continued to promote her, from operations director to recruiting coordinator to top assistant.

Her Army assignment made her and Jamie the first sister and brother to hold head coaching jobs for Division I teams, and Army's berth in the NCAA tournament -- along with Pittsburgh's third appearance under Jamie -- also was a sister-brother first.

She began assisting at her brother's basketball camps when she still was in high school and was known to speak to her brother almost daily by telephone.

"As her older brother," Jamie Dixon's statement said, "I know she looked up to me. But I always looked up to her, too, and it's obvious that a lot of other people did as well. Maggie touched so many people beyond basketball."

John Jeansonne writes for Newsday.

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