Longtime Amherst College basketball coach Dave Hixon belonged in every room at Basketball Hall of Fame induction
|Published: 08-13-2023 12:00 PM
SPRINGFIELD — John Calipari wrapped an arm around Dave Hixon as he introduced the longtime Amherst College men’s basketball coach to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
Their time in Amherst overlapped when Calipari was at UMass. Hixon coached at Amherst for 42 years. Calipari was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015. Izzo followed shortly after in 2016. The Hall welcomed Hixon on Saturday night.
Every time Calipari mentions Hixon, he tells the camp story. The short version: when Calipari started at UMass, he found the perfect weeks to run camp in the summer. He was told he couldn’t run camp those weeks because Hixon’s camp was at the same time. No one would come to UMass.
The story grows longer and more involved every time Calipari recounts it. He’s added an element about asking if Hixon ran a camp in Lexington when he was hired at Kentucky.
Izzo grinned sitting at a table in a secluded bar at Springfield Sheraton Hotel. The Hall of Fame Induction’s VIP reception was in full swing. Event organizers corralled the present Hall of Famers into a staging room with soft lighting and dangerously low ceilings for basketball players.
The coaches eventually circled up with Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo. Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors Hall of Famer Chris Bosh sat at a circular table by the door.
“When did you ever think you’d be in a room like this?” Hixon asked. “Unbelievable.”
Dave Kalema, who played for Hixon from 2010-14 and won a national championship had followed Hixon most of the weekend shooting footage for a documentary.
“Are you here? Are you present?” Kalema asked.
“I’m trying,” Hixon said. “I’m worried about my voice.”
He sipped from a plastic water bottle all day with every right to be worried. Throngs of his former players and colleagues at Amherst College orbited most of his steps. Fans asked to take pictures with him. He signed autographs. Former campers thanked him for helping them improve.
Hixon had time for everyone. He posed for pictures and told as long of stories as his vocal pitch count allowed.
Event organizers eventually indicated it was nearing time to head out to the rooftop patio for introductions. Hixon stepped out the door. They waved him back in indicating it was not time yet and they’d go in alphabetical order. The door locked behind Hixon. He couldn’t return to the room. Bosh opened the door from the other side and let him back in. Hall of Famers stick together.
“Come on let’s get this going, I want to get going,” Hixon said. “We’ve still got two hours to kickoff.”
He noted a piano in the corner.
“If I were a true Amherst man, I’d sit at that piano and dazzle ‘em,” Hixon said.
Musical acumen aside, there’s no truer Amherst man than Hixon. He arrived on campus in 1971 as a freshman. Peter Gooding, the athletic director at the time, hired him in 1977 just two years after he graduated. Hixon spent the next 42 years leading the program to 826 wins, two national championships and seven Final Fours.
Now it was finally time for the Hall of Famers to come out and be introduced to the crowd. The din in the room overwhelmed the organizers call for attention. Hixon held his fingers to his teeth an unleashed a whistle honed over four decades of calling college athletes to attention. Silence fell, and they made their way out the door.
Hixon walked with Calipari and UConn legend Jim Calhoun (Class of 2005). They presented him during the induction ceremony, two longtime rivals seated together on stage in support of someone they both admired. Calhoun met Hixon when he was very young through his relationship with Wil Hixon, a new England Basketball Hall of Fame coach at Andover, when he coached high school ball in Massachusetts.
Hixon’s voice survived to his speech. He was nervous before and almost immediately went off script mentioning his orange Hall of Fame jacket. The entire class received them along with their rings the night before. Most opted for other fashion choices during their speeches. Hixon kept the basketball-orange blazer on. He followed the schedule after that in a tight, seven-minute oration that acknowledged his place as the first lifelong Division 3 coach inducted into the Hall and thanked his family and other supporters along the way.
Many of them gathered back at the Sheraton after the ceremony ended.
“I’m going to try and actually say hi to everybody and tell stories,” Hixon said after he arrived in the banquet room. “After a beer.”
He barely had time to sip his Corona making the rounds, dispensing hugs and heartfelt appreciation. Most everyone in the room attended Amherst College. They greeted each other with their graduation year. Hixon’s high school teammate from Andover David Sweetser sat at a table in the corner and observed. When he saw the man he’d known for more than 50 years so separated, Hixon encouraged Sweetser to get up and mingle.
“I’m enjoying myself,” Sweetser said. It wasn’t about him.
Hixon eventually let anyone who asked try the jacket on or wear his Hall of Fame ring. He belonged in every room he entered that weekend, but none more than the one filled with those closest to him.Kyle Grabowski can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.