- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Maggie Dixon, Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis all shared a love for the game. In a sweet coincidence, their lives were celebrated on basketball courts 15 miles apart Sunday in New York City.

Fordham honored the memory of Richmond assistant coach Doyle and director of basketball operations Lewis, who died in a balloon accident this past May when the Rams hosted the Spiders in the Atlantic-10 opener for both teams. That game took place shortly after the ninth annual Maggie Dixon Classic was played at Madison Square Garden in memory of the former Army coach, who died of a heart arrhythmia in 2006 at the age 28.

“I knew Maggie and it’s hard to believe it’s been as long as it’s been. How do you put into words what you lose,” Richmond coach Michael Shafer said after his team lost in overtime on a last-second 3-pointer. “We’re celebrating their lives as much as we can.”

Rams coach Stephanie Gaitley wanted to do something to honor her former player. She was the coach at Richmond when Doyle transferred there from George Washington and helped the Spiders reach the NCAA tournament in 1991.

“She was like part of my family,” Gaitley recalled. “We only play Richmond once this year and I wanted to do something in honor of Ginny and Natalie. I didn’t know Natalie, but everyone had such great things to say about her.”

So Fordham dedicated Sunday’s game to the memory of Doyle and Lewis. Doyle’s family was at the game. The school helped raise money for The Ginny Doyle Memorial Fund through the sale of wristbands, Twitter followers and a foul shooting contest. Fordham also created a pamphlet about Doyle and Lewis so that fans would have a better understanding of who they were.

“The support we’ve gotten has been unbelievable,” Shafer said. “Fordham has gone to great lengths to try and help and be there. It’s good to feel like when you walk into someone else’s gym you have people who care about you as people and not just want to beat your brains out.”

Shafer said that getting on the court has been the best thing for his team, which is 9-5 this season. The Spiders’ five-game winning streak ended Sunday.

“When something happens to you like what happened to us, it takes away what’s normal,” Shafer said. “You need to feel normal. Basketball is that normalcy, getting back out there feels good.”

The Rams showed a video at the half of Doyle beating former CBS analyst Billy Packer in a free throw shooting contest. Shafer and his team happened to be walking back onto the court as the video played and it was emotional for them.

“It was tough there,” he said. “It dug up some emotions that certainly weren’t gone that I kind of pocketed away. It’s never going to go away. I tell our players we’re not alone. There are a lot of people that want to see us do well and I told them you need to know you’re loved.”

While the death of Doyle and Lewis is still fresh in the minds of so many, Dixon’s legacy is celebrated with the annual game at the Garden.

“It’s always good to play here, but it’s not just a regular-season game,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It’s more personal, I think. My relationship with the (Dixon) family … it means a lot to me. I think it’s good that we can keep it going, keep her memory alive.”

Auriemma’s second-ranked Huskies beat St. John’s 70-54 in the second game of the women’s doubleheader that drew nearly 7,500 fans. The opener was a rematch between Immaculata and Queens College, the first women’s game ever played at the Garden 40 years ago. Queens College won this one 76-60.

“Anytime we can do something to honor someone who was special to the game it’s a great thing,” said Auriemma, who received the Maggie Dixon Courage award before the game from her mother and sister.

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