The Basketball Hall of Fame will hold its enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield on Saturday. There's a western Massachusetts flavor to this year's class: Dave Hixon, the retired men's basketball coach at Amherst College.
Hixon won more than 800 games and two Division III national championships over more than 40 years.
On a recent summer morning, LeFrak Gymnasium on the Amherst campus was quiet. A wall behind one of the baskets was filled with banners commemorating championships and accomplishments, many of them courtesy of teams led by Hixon.
Sitting on the sidelines, right by a logo that says "Hixon Court," the former coach said lots of memories come rushing back to him when he visits.
“This is sort of like my happy place. And I used to come in before practice and when I would sit and look at some of the things that we had done," he said. "It's all pictures of players. It's all scenes that took place in the games."
Hixon then thought back to getting the call early this spring from Basketball Hall of Fame Chair Jerry Colangelo.
“When he first said, ‘Dave, I just want to let you know,’ and then he cleared his throat,” Hixon said. “He said, ‘I just want to let you know that you're going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.' And I said, ‘Could you repeat that, Jerry?’ So, he repeated it and then we had quite a laugh over it.”
Hixon said it was a relief to find out he'd made it.
“I'd over-prepared two scenarios, but one of them — the one I really over-prepared for — was if I didn't get it,” the coach said. “When he told me, it was relief for sure. But then again, a flood of thoughts of the pieces that went into this, again, mostly players and some of the great moments that we've had that went into it.”
Along with Hixon, former NBA superstars Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Gasol are in this year’s Hall of Fame class. Legendary college coaches Gene Keady and Jim Valvano, and NBA coach Gregg Popovich, are also being honored — along with six-time WNBA all-star Becky Hammon.
Hixon, who retired in 2020, will become the first coach going into the Hall after spending an entire career at the DIII level.
“The fact that one guy is in, it opens the door — I hope — for others,” he said.
Hixon, who also played basketball at Amherst College as a student, said he had chances along the way to coach elsewhere. But, he said, he always talked himself into staying at his alma mater.
“I don't think the years could have been any better. It was a lot of support from the school, a lot of crowd support. Kids came to the games. It was just, I really thought we were building something really special,” Hixon said.
And he’s really glad he did stay and kept on racking up wins. Hixon said there were several ingredients for all of those victories.
“I think that's what, from the get-go, we tried to do was to really create a culture, a culture that had great kids on campus, community service type stuff, but a passion for winning, a passion for really playing the game. We practiced really hard,” he said. "We played hard and so we translated that into the game, and I think kids pass that on from year to year, and then I say from generation to generation.”
Hixon, when asked what making the Hall of Fame meant to him, relayed a story about his father, who was also a basketball coach — at the high-school level.
“My dad was in his last year of life and I took that year off to spend with him, because my mom had just passed away and he's all by himself,” Hixon said. "My dad never gave out compliments very often, [but] he looks at me … and he says, ‘You know, it wasn't the wins that were so important, it’s the way that you did it.' "
And on Saturday evening in Springfield, Hixon will add another memory of a lifetime: being enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.