And One: Medina Dixon, Old Dominion legend

Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics)
Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics) /

The game to back up the talk.

Confidence, swagger, maybe arrogance? Call it what you want, but players like Diana Taurasi, Angel McCoughtry, Courtney Williams, and Diamond DeShields just exude self-belief, and they have since their college days. Breanna Stewart had the temerity to proclaim her desire not to just win a championship, but to sweep all four titles in her time at Connecticut. (And, of course, she did.)

You think of college players this year like Arike Ogunbowale, Sophie Cunningham, and Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, who after a Sweet 16 loss nonchalantly told the press her range extended to the hash mark.

That kind of attitude rubs some people the wrong way, but especially today with the media’s reach and the immediacy of the players’ words, those personalities add a new layer of excitement and intrigue to the game. The reach might be different today, but that kind of unwavering confidence is nothing new.

More from History

I’d like to talk about Medina Dixon, the heralded Boston-area high school player who took college basketball by storm in multiple ways on her way to national prominence at Old Dominion.

“No girl in the world can stop me when I’m hot.”

As a freshman, Dixon scored 43 of her team’s 46 points in a state tourney loss, quickly making  a name for herself as a self-proclaimed unstoppable force. By her sophomore year, she averaged 19 points and 15 rebounds en route to a state title and built the swagger due to the Massachusetts Division I Player of the Year and Parade Magazine All-American.

“If it’s the first quarter and they let me play my kind of game, it’s all over,” she told a reporter following that season, doubling down on her confidence.

Unfortunately for Dixon, the Cambridge area, and perhaps the entire state girls’ basketball system, they didn’t let her play most of her junior year. Due to discrepancies in her guardianship and documentation surrounding her living arrangements the previous year, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association barred her from playing until late in the year. Despite playing just one game, Dixon was still named a Parade All-American that year.

Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics)
Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics) /

In her senior season, she took her team back to the state finals and earned Parade All-American status again, but she made waves during her unorthodox college recruiting process.

Taking matters in to her own hands, Dixon was reported at the time to have sent letters to many of the schools interested asking about such matters as their academics, “black population at the college in relation to total student population”, the area surrounding the school, and the coach’s basketball philosophy.

While some coaches, like relatively new Villanova head coach Harry Perretta, said “she had that right” as a recruit, others were not in favor of the approach, seeing it as a high school player making demands. Jim Foster, then coach at St. Joseph’s University, told the Philadelphia Daily News at the time that if he received such a letter, he would “send it right back.”

After leading the U.S. junior national team in scoring in a tour in Yugoslavia that summer, Dixon ultimately took her talent to the University of South Carolina.

She was a standout immediately for a program in the top five of the AP rankings through the first half of the season. Lori Scott, a standout forward for the AIAW champion Lady Techsters of Louisiana Tech, described Dixon as “a finesse player…real smooth.”

Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics)
Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics) /

The rise to national prominence was shaken up midway through the 1981-1982 season, when scandal rocked the Gamecocks. After head coach Pam Parsons left the program amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with one of the student-athletes, many of the players followed suit.

Dixon was among that group on their way out when she reconnected with Marianne Stanley, head coach at Old Dominion. Stanley had coached her as part of the East team in the National Sports Festival during her high school career, and thus began Dixon’s journey in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Weaknesses… I’ll pass.”

A freshman on the move, Dixon was far from shaken up by the transfer or the fact that she would be unable to play until the following year, telling a reporter at the time her strength was rebounding but that she had “few weaknesses.” Stanley agreed that Dixon brought something special to an already elite team.

“She’s the type who will put people in the seats,” she told a reporter at the time, while in the middle of another successful run.

Where South Carolina was a program on the rise, Old Dominion had yearly expectations of national championships. Stanley had led rosters loaded with talent — Nancy Lieberman, Inge Nissen, and Anne Donovan, to name a few — to AIAW championships in 1979 and 1980 and the Final Four in 1981.

With Dixon looking on, the Lady Monarchs finished their season 22-6 and made a run in to the inaugural NCAA Sweet Sixteen, where they fell to Kansas State to close out the season.

“It’s not if I’ll be an All-American, but when I’ll be an All-American.”

With Donovan the anchor inside, Dixon served as a 6’3 versatile big with the skills of a guard. Donovan led the team in scoring, but Dixon followed with 16.6 points per game, adding 4.2 assists and leading the team in steals through the season despite missing a month early with a broken finger.

Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics)
Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics) /

The Lady Monarchs finished out the regular season as champions in the Sun Belt, adding a conference tournament trophy shortly thereafter. Their five losses all came to top-10 teams Kansas State, USC, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky, and Maryland, and they closed out the season ranked fourth themselves.

Dixon was a powerhouse, and she thrived in the postseason. In the Sun Belt Tournament, she had 12 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists; the following day the Lady Monarchs took down Western Kentucky for the tournament title, with Dixon pouring in 29 points on 12 of 18 shooting and pulling down 10 rebounds.

Time to step up to the national stage: the Lady Monarchs were the two seed in the East Region, looking at a C. Vivian Stringer-led Cheyney team as the top seed and a potential rematch with Maryland in the Sweet 16.

In the first round, Old Dominion ran over St. John’s 86-63. Dixon had 18 points on 9 of 13 shooting to go with a career high 10 assists. In the second round, they pulled off the revenge game against Maryland, settling in to their defense in a 74-57 win. Donovan owned the game with 27 points and 16 rebounds, while Dixon held steady with eight points and five assists.

The Elite Eight matched Old Dominion against Penn State, who upset Cheyney State by a point in the Sweet Sixteen. The Nittany Lions’ head coach Rene Portland was one of many who recruited Dixon in high school, and she was the biggest scoring factor in the game. She made 14 of 25 shots for 29 points in the Lady Monarchs’ 74-60 win. Dixon was named East Regional MVP before returning home to Norfolk for the Final Four at the Scope Arena.

The Final Four was another rematch for Old Dominion, but this one they couldn’t overcome. The Lady Techsters — led at that time by Kim Mulkey, Lori Scott, and Janice Lawrence — ended Old Dominion’s season 71-55.

Dixon was an honorable mention All-American that year, but as she foreshadowed, her time was coming. Donovan graduated, and in the fall of 1983, the highly-touted Tracy Claxton joined the roster. The Lady Monarchs moved to a high-pace offense and pressing defense, to mixed success.

After early losses to Western Kentucky and Tennessee and mid-January upsets at the hands of UCLA and Cal, Dixon and crew righted the ship with nine consecutive wins to close the regular season. They won the Sun Belt regular season and tournament championships again, and it was clear Dixon was their leader.

With 20.8 points per game on 55.1% shooting from the field and a career-high 78.7% from the free throw line, she led the team in scoring and assists with 4.5 per game. For the second straight year she led the team with 86 steals. For her efforts, Dixon was named a Naismith All-American her junior year.

Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics)
Medina Dixon. (photo courtesy Old Dominion Athletics) /

After topping Penn State and NC State, the Lady Monarchs’ season ended with a 71-80 loss to Cheyney State in a rematch of the previous year’s Elite Eight game, giving Dixon one more shot at a national title.

There’s not a perfect quote from Dixon to put here; with one final shot at a national championship, she let her play speak for itself.

The Lady Monarchs added guard Adrienne Goodson to the roster and started the season as the No. 3 team in the country. Riding a 40+ game home winning streak dating back to February 1981, Old Dominion started the season with 16 consecutive wins, quickly moving up to the top of the AP rankings.

During that time Dixon exemplified her nickname “Ice” by performing at a high level in pressure situations: she had 27 points in a win over No. 2 Long Beach State on January 7th, followed by two clutch free throws in the final 13 seconds to pull off a 64-63 win in Lexington over Kentucky.

Finishing the season 26-3, Old Dominion was once again Sun Belt champions in the regular season and conference tournament, and Dixon capped her conference career as Player of the Year. She averaged 16.4 points in a more balanced offense, pulling down 8.5 rebounds and dishing 3.5 assists per game. To add on to that, she was named a Kodak All-American as one of the top players in the country, and she was a finalist for both the Naismith Award and Wade Trophy.

This time the Lady Monarchs were the top seed in the East Regional. They ran through Syracuse in the first round 88-63 with 12 points from Dixon, followed by a 77-67 win over NC State where Dixon had 15 points.

The Elite Eight matched them up with the second-seeded Ohio State. “Ice” had two free throws in the final 40 seconds, and teammate Lisa Blais added one more as the Lady Monarchs eked out a 72-68 win. Dixon finished with 18 points to propel her team back to the Final Four. Before heading to Austin for at least one more game, Dixon was named East Regional MVP once again.

Defense got Stanley’s team through a 57-47 win over Northeast Louisiana where Dixon had 10 points, and the Lady Monarchs were back in the national title game and facing a formidable foe. Out of the West Regional, Andy Landers’ Georgia squad featured a lineup of future Hall of Famers, Olympians, and award namesakes Janet Harris, Teresa Edwards, and Katrina McClain.

On paper, Georgia had more strength, and Old Dominion had the speed. And ultimately, Dixon had the confidence. She finished the game with 18 points and 15 rebounds, and her teammate Claxton added 17 points and 20 boards to earn Final Four MVP honors, and the pair of transfers got Old Dominion back to the top of the NCAA. Overcoming Georgia 70-65, the Lady Monarchs won their first national title since 1980 and what is to this day their only NCAA Tournament title.

In the last game of her college career, Dixon added a national championship to multiple Regional MVP honors and the All-America spot she prophesied early on. Over her four years, she averaged 17.4 points on 49.4% shooting from the field, adding 8.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

After her college career ended, she went on to play 10 years professionally, including stints in Milan, Japan, and Russia, and a brief time in the ABL with the Columbus Quest.

She competed for the 1990 U.S. National Team in the World Championship, putting up 8.3 points on 60% from the field and a team-best 80% from the free throw line (12 of 15) as the U.S. earned gold in Malaysia.

In 1991, she earned bronze as part of the U.S. National Team in Cuba in the Pan American Games and ultimately earned a spot on the 1992 Olympic Team, where she was lights-out with 15.8 points on 67.3% shooting from the field, leading the team in scoring and winning another bronze medal.

Dixon was enshrined in the Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997, and in 2011 she was the seventh Lady Monarch to have her jersey retired. In November 2017, she was enshrined in the ODU Athletics Hall of Fame as one of the greatest to ever play for the team out of Norfolk.

From her earliest playing days, Medina Dixon became known for talking the talk, but by the time she finished playing she had a high school state title, multiple All-America honors, Player of the Year awards, All-Tournament team selections, MVP awards, an NCAA title, and a gold medal to prove she could do far better than just walk the walk.

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