A year after the death of their young coach, the Army women are piling up winsunder her curmudgeonly successor
WITH A 61--57victory over Patriot League champ Bucknell last Saturday, the Army women's teamenters the conference tournament 24--5 and with an eye on its second straighttrip to the NCAA tourney. Not bad for a team whose coach is supposed to beholding down a cushy administrative job.
Dave Magaritythought he was done with coaching by the time he met with Maggie Dixon in thefall of 2005. Tired of the grind after three decades as a men's coach,including 18 years at Marist, he had become an assistant commissioner of theMid-American Conference the year before. But then Dixon, 28, the new women'scoach at Army who had no previous head-coaching experience, offered him a jobas her top assistant. Bowled over by her ebullience, Magarity accepted on thespot—never mind that he hadn't coached women before.
The next sixmonths, he says, were surreal. The Black Knights started 5--7 but finished witha flourish, going 15--3 and winning the league tournament to earn the program'sfirst NCAA bid. After that 69--68 win over Holy Cross, Magarity watched inwonder as the Corps of Cadets carried Dixon from the Christl Arena floor ontheir shoulders. A month later, after she died from complications of heartarrhythmia, he watched through tears as her players bore her casket to a gravesite in the West Point cemetery.
At the time, hehad already agreed to take a job as the director of college scouting for theNew Orleans Hornets. But after Dixon's death the Army players told him he wasthe only person who could replace her. So Magarity, 57, stayed at West Pointfor the same reason he'd gone in the first place. "I'm a teacher," saysMagarity. "I love working with kids. That's what I do."
While a secondberth in the Big Dance will most likely hinge on the Black Knights' winning theconference tourney—in spite of its record, Army's RPI is 143—the season hasbeen a success in the face of tragedy. Dixon had given the once moribund teamconfidence, and Magarity has helped his players remain focused. He began byoverhauling the offense he and Dixon ran a season ago. "Last year we keptgoing back to one set," says junior guard Cara Enright, the league's2005--06 player of the year. "Now we're running 40-something plays."Wisely, Magarity runs many of them for the smooth-shooting Enright, who wasaveraging a league-high 15.3 points per game through Sunday. "She's notquick, she can't jump and she's not a great athlete," he says. "Shejust knows how to play the game."
One of Magarity'smore subtle refinements has been in the approach he takes with his players, anadjustment he credits to the even-keeled Dixon. Prone to bluster on thesideline, he's careful to apologize promptly to his players after an outburst.Also helping him with the transition to coaching women is his daughter Maureen,whom Dixon interviewed for a job last spring.
While his styleis all his own, Magarity hasn't shied away from Dixon's legacy. He has made apoint to carry on some of her favorite rituals, including the"We-wills," a list of goals the Black Knights recite before every game."I was used to just saying, 'Let's go get 'em,'" he says, of the timewhen he coached men. "But the We-wills go around the room. Pregame takes aslong as Ben-Hur."
That's Magarity'sonly complaint. Maybe he'll even stick around for another season.
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1 Wisconsin is in trouble if it has to go into thepostseason without 6'11" center Brian Butch (right), who injured his elbowin a 49--48 loss at Ohio State on Sunday. He's the Badgers' leading rebounderand third-leading scorer, and they can't win a national championship withouthim.
2 Georgetown is looking like a No. 2 seed. The Hoyas(22--5) don't have a résumé strong enough to earn a No. 1, but their 11straight wins through Sunday—including a 61--53 victory over Pitt lastSaturday—makes them one of the hottest teams in the country.
3 Air Force's lack of size is a problem. The Falcons,who are ranked last in the Mountain West Conference in blocks, wereoutrebounded by a combined 19 boards during losses to UNLV and TCU.
GOOD KNIGHTS The mellower Magarity (inset) has Margaree King and Co. knocking off opponents.
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JOHN BIEVER (BUTCH)