Jamie Dixon Ready to Lead U.S. Men in the U19 World Cup
The Veteran College Coach Previously Guided the U.S. to Gold at the 2009 Event
As Jamie Dixon opened the package, that special feeling overtook him, just like it first had a dozen years ago.
“It’s exciting,” said Dixon, who will coach the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team at next month’s FIBA U19 World Cup. “It didn’t hit home until the other day when they sent us the USA Basketball gear and the other stuff we’d be wearing. When you’re getting that out of the box and getting it washed, you realize those are your shirts, and I think it really resonates that you’re representing your country.”
Dixon, currently the head coach at Texas Christian University, also guided the 2009 USA U19 squad — at that time, he was the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh — and now he’s back for another dose of competition and hopefully another gold medal.
Dixon’s work begins June 20 as TCU hosts a three-day training camp to determine the roster. The 16-nation tournament takes place July 3-11 in Latvia.
In 2009, the challenge for Dixon was that he became coach of the U19 team late in the process and, additionally, many potential players decided not to participate as training camp neared.
“There was some concern about what kind of team we were going to be,” he said, looking back. “But at the time, nobody knew how good Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and Seth Curry were going to be.”
Dixon led the ’09 squad to a 9-0 record and its first gold medal in the event since 1991. In fact, the veteran coach used that 18-year title drought as a key motivator for his players. This year, he acknowledged that he’ll likely lean on the mindset that anything can happen and that nothing is guaranteed, noting that the U.S. didn’t even medal in 2011, needed overtime to win gold in 2015 and won bronze in 2017 before rebounding with another gold two years ago.
Additionally, Dixon knows his team must be ready to play from the start of the tournament, as the Americans will face Turkey, Mali and Australia in group play. The USA defeated Mali in the 2019 title game.
“We’ll talk to the players about how the pool is very strong,” Dixon said, “So we’re going to get tough games early. All three teams in our pool have had good showings recently. So that’s something we’ll establish early.”
There is a degree of urgency too, as Dixon aims to quickly build a cohesive roster that can excel on the court and gel away from it.
“We know what’s got to be done,” the 55-year-old coach said. “I don’t think we’ll be there at first. We need to understand it’s a work in progress. Not everything is going to go smoothly, but I’ll constantly push us to be the best team. And we have to win with defense. In the past, that’s what has separated the U.S.”
Thinking back to his experience in 2009 made it easy for Dixon to accept the role this time around.
“It was very exciting. I had a great experience last time and made great friendships and relationships with players and coaches and USA Basketball,” said Dixon, who is looking forward to working alongside assistant coaches Jerod Haase (Stanford University) and James Jones (Yale University) with this year’s team.
A selection committee will choose the roster, narrowing the training camp attendees to the 12 players who will compete in Latvia. The coaches and committee members will be watching closely in training camp, as there is limited film on many of these players due to COVID-19’s impact on the recent high school and college basketball seasons.
For Dixon in particular, training camp will be his first time to fully understand what each of the 26 players brings to the table and how each potentially can contribute to the team.
“It’s an opportunity to figure out who we are and learn about our strengths,” Dixon said.
With the entire camp roster made up of players who are rising college freshmen and sophomores, Dixon knows that he may need to take a larger leadership role than he has when his teams at Pittsburgh and TCU have had more veteran rosters in the past. But, he noted, the modern culture of college basketball is a world that typically features very young teams and rapid annual roster turnover. So in that sense, the USA U19 World Cup Team will be nothing new.
“They’re all young, but we’ve been young at TCU,” Dixon said. “College basketball is not what it was — now it’s a new team every year, so that’s kind of the situation we’re in now.”
Given the team’s youth and inexperience — and the consistent improvement of other nations — Dixon isn’t concerned with recording dominant victories, particularly early in the event. The veteran coach just wants to his team to be peaking at the right time, which naturally he hopes is in the medal round.
“If we don’t blow out somebody in our first game, that’s just part of the process,” Dixon said. “We’ve got to continue to improve and keep getting better, and hopefully if we do that, then we’ll do well.”