Dave Hixon’s Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction blazes a trail for D3 coaches

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-11-2023 5:42 PM

UNCASVILLE, Connecticut — Being on a poster with Manu Ginobli gave Dave Hixon a kick.

The longtime Amherst College men’s basketball coach was nominated for induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last year. Even with his 826 career wins, two Division 3 national championships and seven Final Four appearances, the Division 3 lifer figured he wouldn’t make it any further.

“I was so happy to have my picture on the same poster as theirs, then that’s the end, right?” Hixon said. “Now here I am. It’s amazing stuff.”

The hall nominated him again this winter. He became a finalist in the spring. Hixon had to ask chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame Jerry Colangelo to repeat himself when he was told he’d been inducted in March.

“I hope Division 3 can see a light now as far as something like the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. To be the first one, to open the door, I hope that is that,” Hixon said. “It’s not just it happened that people win games and win championships because they have a good coach. They’ve created a good culture, and I like to think I was a part of that.”

Amherst hired Hixon in 1977 when he was just 24 years old, then the youngest coach in the country. He told his roommates as a junior that he wanted to be coaching Amherst in 10 years. His tenure lasted 42 years at a level most coaches of his caliber leave. There were opportunities, too. But Hixon stayed at Amherst.

He stepped away in 2019 to care for his ailing father Wil, who he entered the New England Basketball Hall of Fame with in 2003, and retired in April of 2020. Amherst named the court at LeFrak Gymnasium after him last summer.

“The culture and values of our program, I think that’s what made us successful. A lot of programs talk about family, and we have an amazing family,” Hixon said.

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Former players often reach out to him asking about career fields for themselves or family members. Hixon scans his network and connects them with someone in that field within the hour usually.

“There’s this constant nurturing of each other and mentoring of each other,” Hixon said. “We demand that kids are good people, that they’re adding to the campus always.”

Academics need to come first to even get in to Amherst College — one of the nation’s top liberal arts schools, and Hixon emphasized that further as an alum. But once the players were in the gym, they focused on basketball.

“I have them for two hours, that’s my two hours. The classroom is gone,” Hixon said. “Let’s play hard, let’s practice hard.”

For a long time they played and practiced without a chance to compete at Division 3’s highest level. His teams couldn’t even go to the NCAA Tournament for the first 17 years of his career because of college and conference rules. In the 25 seasons under Hixon that Amherst could go to the NCAA Tournament, it made 20 trips and reached 14 Sweet 16s.

The first season in 1994, the then-Lord Jeffs knocked off No. 1 Franklin & Marshall on its home floor.

“I said, ‘we can do this, right?’ It’s so wonderful to see that our kids have what it takes to compete at that national level,” Hixon said.

Hixon was one of two “firsts” elected to the Hall of Fame this season. He’ll go in along with former Three Rivers Community College coach Gene Bess. Bess won 1,300 games over 50 years to become the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history.

“One of the great things about this class is when you recognize the contributions they’ve made, incredible contributions, where in the past they’ve been overlooked to a large degree, it’s great for the game,” Colangelo said.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>