The Lady Vols also officially start their season Sunday against Tennessee-Chattanooga. At the end of the 2006-07 season, a first-year coach will be chosen to receive the inaugural "Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach of the Year" award. The Women's Basketball Coaches Association announced the establishment of the award last month.
"Maggie Dixon brought passion, enthusiasm, knowledge, kindness and humor to every aspect of her coaching life. Her life became a constant role model for every player and coach that was blessed to be touched by her," said Doug Bruno, WBCA President. "I thank God every day for having the privilege to have worked with Maggie and to have witnessed Maggie's magic for six years. It is truly an honor to be able to name an award for Maggie and ensure that her coaching legacy lives."
Bruno is the head coach at DePaul, where Dixon served as an assistant before taking the top position at Army last year. She went on to lead the Black Knights, who finished 20-11, to their first Patriot League title and was named the league's coach of the year. Army drew Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tourney and lost, 102-54, on March 19, 2006.
On April 6, 2006, Dixon died at the age of 28 from an enlarged heart and heart valve problem. Despite having been at Army for only six months, she was buried at West Point, one of the few women and few civilians to ever receive the honor. The school had requested that Dixon be laid to rest in the more than 200-year-old historical cemetery, and her family agreed because of what she had meant to the school in her first season.
Candace Parker knew Dixon because she recruited the All-American forward when Parker was still in high school in Naperville, Illinois.
"I was devastated," Parker said. "It really hit home with me, because she is such a great person and great coach and in her prime and on top of the world. I felt so bad."
Summitt received a phone call from a member of her staff informing her of Dixon's death.
"To know Maggie from her days at DePaul and then to be in that last game, the last one that she coached … physically just sick," Summitt said of her reaction to the news.
The women's basketball coaches of the Patriot League will wear commemorative pins this season to honor Dixon. Her parents will attend the classic and will receive a championship ring and championship banners for Army's league title and Dixon's coach of the year honor. The banners will be displayed permanently at West Point.
When asked of the impact of Dixon's death and her memories of the Army game, Summitt said, "As I reflect on that, her team was so well-coached. They obviously had a great commitment and spirit about them. It's hard to believe. It tells you how precious life is. That right there I think it had an impact on all of her peers as well. As we mature in life we just realize one day at a time, that's all we have. That was a great reminder to me: Live your life each and every day, and live it the right way. Because you never know if tomorrow you'll be a part of it."
Summitt applauded the WBCA's creation of the award.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "I think it's very appropriate. I'm sure it will mean a lot to her family and a lot to her team. She was well-liked and well-respected."
Parker made history in that game when she dunked twice, but Dixon left a legacy, and Parker pointed it out.
"She went out on top, honestly," Parker said. "She has left a lasting impact on a lot of players."
CAIT UPDATE: Freshman point guard Cait McMahan missed practice Friday because of some swelling in her right knee. She did rehab on the sidelines and will be monitored day to day. It is possible that she can practice Saturday and be cleared for Sunday's game.
"If the swelling is gone, she can play," Summitt said. "We just have to be smart. You have to listen to the body. With the swelling, it's a visible problem so if you see that you just back off."
McMahan is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery last winter and then arthroscopic surgery this fall to clean out the knee.
GUARD THIS: Former Lady Vol guards Shanna Zolman and Loree Moore were in the arena Friday and took part in some drills and full-court work at times. The presence of former players usually gets the competitive fires stoked a little hotter, and Friday was no exception.
Zolman, who joined the male practice squad for some series, was about to loft a three when senior Sidney Spencer – Zolman's best friend and maid of honor in her wedding last month – blocked the shot. Zolman ended up sprawled on the floor, and Spencer couldn't help but smile as she ran down court. Even Summitt walked by and gave her a pat on the back for defense. Zolman got up with a big smile.
Moore also took some repetitions with the male squad and enjoyed playing against former teammates.
"They both look great," Summitt said of the players who are now in the WNBA – Moore with the New York Liberty and Zolman with the San Antonio Silver Stars.
The high-spirited practice pleased the coach, too.
"I think on both sides they have something to prove. It's good," Summitt said.
The Lady Vols will return to the practice court Saturday to prepare for Sunday's opener.