The message couldn’t be missed at this year’s Maggie Dixon Classic, the women’s college basketball doubleheader held annually at Madison Square Garden to honor the memory of the late Army coach. Fans wore orange T-shirts that read “We back Pat” on the front, while the back read, “Our friend, our coach, our family-The University of Tennessee.”
Two busloads of Lady Vols fans made the trip from Knoxville, Tenn., to see the legendary Pat Summitt, the winningest coach in college basketball, coach at Madison Square Garden for perhaps the last time. “Every game is a challenge, but the Lady Vols fans are behind her,” said longtime fan Sylvia Billingsley about Summitt, who was diagnosed earlier this year with early onset dementia. “We’re going to be there for her and our team.”
During a time-out in the first game of the day, a 73-59 win by Baylor over St. John’s, Summitt came onto the court with members of the Dixon family to receive the Maggie Dixon Courage Award. “We got out of our huddle real quick to give her a standing ovation,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey.
Baylor, in a celebratory mood after Robert Griffin III’s Heisman win the night before, lagged early, and St. John’s led 32-30 at the half. But an 18-3 run early in the second half left little doubt about why Baylor is the top ranked team in the country and why Brittney Griner is its most dominant player. Amazingly, Griner only took up basketball as a freshman in high school.
“Then she blossomed and decided this was the sport she wanted to play,” said her aunt, Nicole Walker, who made the trip from Texas. “Determination, dedication and desire.”
St. John’s freshman Amber Thompson, who notched 12 points and eight rebounds, also started playing basketball as a ninth grader. Her proud mother marveled at seeing her on the hardwood in the world’s most famous arena.
In Game 2, Tennessee defeated DePaul 84-61. “We’re playing for every woman,” said Tennessee forward Glory Johnson. “We’re playing for Pat.”
As at every Maggie Dixon Classic, there was a Heart Health Fair where people could learn about heart health, including how to be certified in CPR. Madison Square Garden donated $10,000 to the Maggie Dixon Foundation.
“This is a great platform for women’s basketball,” said Beth Bass, CEO of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.