- - Monday, February 26, 2018

BALTIMORE — Juan Dixon, as a young boy growing up in Baltimore, played in AAU basketball events at Coppin State University.

But much has changed on the campus of the historically black school in the rugged northwest part of the city.

For one, there is the new PEC Arena, which opened on Feb. 27, 2010, and holds 4,100 fans.

“I played in the other arena,” said Dixon, 39, with a big grin.

That smile by the former University of Maryland and Washington Wizards guard — now in his first season as the Coppin State men’s head coach — implied that the old digs were not nearly as glamorous.

Dixon had not been back to campus for years when he interviewed for the job with athletic director Derek Carter.

“Wow, it is a beautiful campus. When people come to campus they have the same feeling,” said Dixon, who turns 40 in October.

The Baltimore native has come a long way, playing in the NBA from 2002-09. Now he’s charged with trying to get Coppin State back to its glory days in basketball.

On a concourse less than 50 yards from midcourt is a case with a trophy from 2008, when the Eagles last won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference men’s basketball title and appeared in the NCAA Tournament.

It’s a reminder of how much work is ahead for Dixon and the Eagles, who were 8-24 last season and have not had a winning season since 2010-11.

“We took our lumps early (in nonconference play). We are very competitive in the MEAC,” Dixon said after a recent loss to Hampton.

“I have been telling our guys since Day 1, especially when we were 0-17, there is only one team (from the MEAC) that goes to the (NCAA) tournament. We are playing good ball right now. I am positive come March, I don’t think there are a lot of teams that will want to play us” when the MEAC tourney begins March 5 in Norfolk, Virginia.

Dixon, who was hired in April, had been an assistant to Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, and last season was the women’s coach at Division II University of District Columbia, which went 3-25.

“His tenacity, his determination, his passion, his relentless attitude and finally his strong desire to give back to his home city of Baltimore — these were all the traits we were seeking,” Carter said when he was hired.

Dixon helped lead the Terrapins to the national title in 2002.

He averaged 8.4 points and 1.8 assists in 436 NBA games, including stints with the Wizards to begin and end his NBA career before playing overseas.

Coppin State lost its first 17 games this season under Dixon, who is making his head coaching debut in Division I.

The Eagles were 5-24 overall and 5-9 in the MEAC before playing at rival Morgan State on Monday.

Coppin State hosts Howard on Thursday in the team’s regular-season finale.

Dixon has been without sophomore Dejuan Clayton (St. John’s College High), the freshman of the year in the MEAC last season who has been injured with a sore shoulder.

“I am just taking it a day at a time,” Dixon told The Washington Times. “Life is rough (after losses); we play a good brand of basketball. You see how we play.”

It’s a brand the one-time College Park star hopes will result in upward movement in the MEAC standings.

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