‘More than I could have imagined’: Longtime Amherst College basketball coach Dave Hixon inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-13-2023 10:29 AM

SPRINGFIELD — Basketball gave Dave Hixon everything he could ask for. When the longtime Amherst College men’s coach retired in 2020, his former players and friends made him an hour and a half long video thanking him for his impact on their lives.

“I honestly felt this was enough,” Hixon said.

Two years later, many of those same players worked to name the floor at LeFrak Gymnasium after him.

“That made me think that we actually built something really special,” Hixon said. “And again, I felt that was more than anyone could want from one’s life’s chosen endeavor.”

He delivered those words standing at the lectern in Springfield’s Symphony Hall as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Hixon coached at Amherst for 42 years. He won 826 games and two national championships. He delivered his speech still wearing his orange Hall of Fame jacket. No one else did. But Hixon couldn’t bring himself to take it off.

“Now this, the ultimate reward,” Hixon said. “To have one’s life honored at the highest level, to be enshrined into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, to be among my heroes, the gods of the game, I’ve been so blessed in life and in basketball.”

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He was the first lifetime Division 3 coach ever enshrined. His class included junior college coach Gene Bess and the 1976 U.S. Women’s Olympic Team.

“I’d like to thank the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for opening the door in an attempt to be more inclusive across the basketball spectrum,” Hixon said.

Former UMass coach John Calipari and former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, both Hall of Famers, presented Hixon for enshrinement. Calipari’s tenure at UMass overlapped with Hixon’s, and Calhoun knew Hixon’s father Will during his time as a high school coach in Dedham.

“Thank you for being great friends and mentors not only to me along the way, but to many young coaches in the game,” Hixon said.

His class also included NBA legends like Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker and Dirk Nowitzki and coaches like Gregg Popovich, Jim Valvano and Becky Hammon. Before Hixon was inducted, he joked with his wife Mandy, who coached diving at UMass and Amherst for decades, that Symphony Hall would sound like an owl convention when he spoke.

“Most people going ‘Who? Who?’” Hixon said.

Not everyone. Popovich began his career at Division 3 Pomona-Pitzer in 1979, two years after Hixon took over Amherst.

“I’m a Division 3 guy. Guys like coach Hixon are my idols,” Popovich said. “That’s real basketball.”

Hixon first remembered his parents Wil and Dawn, knowing they were smiling down on him. Wil and Dave won a state championship together at Andover in 1970 at the old Boston Garden.

Hixon thanked his assistant coaches and players, too numerous to name one by one after four decades.

“Thank you for giving the privilege of coaching you,” he said.

Then he turned to his family. His oldest son Matthew is an Oscar-nominated film editor, and his youngest son Michael won twosilver medals as an Olympic diver.

“Can you imagine having two parents who both coached winter sports and didn’t believe in day care?” Hixon said. “It’s so wonderful as a parent to see your children grow up and be able to pursue their passions.”

He couldn’t forget Mandy, either. She’ll be inducted into the UMass Hall of Fame in late September.

“She kept us all glued together,” Hixon said.

Hixon is the glue that holds his Amherst basketball family together. Many of his former players and colleagues attended the ceremony.

“We created something very special. The friendships, bonds lifelong relationships and family that have been created over that 42 years and the successes that we achieved was so much more than I could have imagined,” Hixon said. “Or even asked for.”

He gave just as much as he received.

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