College basketball: Dixon returns to NC as Wolfpack assistant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 31, 2023

By Mike London

RALEIGH —  North Rowan graduate Larry Dixon has been hired as an assistant basketball coach by N.C. State.

Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts made the announcement recently that Dixon, who has been an assistant at South Florida the last five seasons, was joining his staff.

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted in January to allow two more assistant coaches on men’s basketball staffs. Dixon will serve as one of the Wolfpack’s two additions. He can engage in all coaching activities,, with the exception of not being able to recruit off campus.

“I think Larry is a great addition to our staff,” Keatts said. “He’s a North Carolina native who has dedicated himself to a coaching career since graduating from college. He started at the high school level in North Carolina and eventually moved up to college and now has been a Division I assistant coach for almost 20 years. I think his experience is going to be a great asset for me and our coaching staff, as well as the young men in our program as we develop them on and off the court.”

The 6-foot-6 Dixon bloomed late at North Rowan and played on the jayvees until his junior year.

He averaged 11.4 points for coach Bob Hundley as a junior on a team that relied on Brian Paige and Chris Sifford to provide most of the scoring.

As a senior, Dixon was the top scorer for the Cavaliers. That was a 1989-90 team that also featured current North Rowan principal Mike White and guard Josh Mills. Dixon scored 510 points that season and averaged 20.4 points per game.

He went on to play college basketball at Johnson C. Smith. The connection that led him to J.C. Smith was Golden Bulls assistant coach Andrew Mitchell, a North Rowan graduate.

Dixon played with three of the leading scorers in J.C. Smith history and gradually learned that if he wanted to play, his role was going to be as a defensive stopper. He embraced that role.

He was named the program’s “Most Improved” his junior season and “Most Outstanding Defensive Player” as a senior.

He made lifelong friends. He earned a degree.

His first chance to coach came at South Rowan High. Dr. Alan King hired Dixon to assist Bob Parker and Sifford, Dixon’s former North Rowan teammate.

Dixon moved from there to Carver High in Winston-Salem. His first head-coaching opportunity at Garinger followed.

He was seen as a rising star in the high school coaching ranks after he piloted the Garinger High Wildcats to 21 wins and a 4A regional appearance. He was the toast of Charlotte, a miracle-worker, the Mecklenburg County Coach of the Year.

He took a serious leap of faith to enter the college coaching ranks. He took a huge pay cut when he accepted an assistant coaching job at St. Andrews.

He went from earning about $40,000 per year at Garinger to $14,000 as a St. Andrew assistant, so friends thought he was crazy, but that career gamble paid off.

He got his foot in the door.

It worked out. He was always able to support his family as a college basketball coach, and assistant salaries are much different now than they were then.

He was at St. Andrews for less than a year when he got the chance to move up to the Division I ranks at South Carolina State.

His coaching journey continued for two years at East Carolina, and then five year at Winthrop. Winthrop was winning Big South Tournament championships. That meant Dixon got to experience March Madness first-hand in 2008 and 2010.

But most college basketball programs ebb and flow. That Winthrop staff was out of work after a down year in 2012.

With his children in Charlotte schools, Dixon turned down assistant coaching offers from far away schools that would have kept him at the college level.

Instead, he got back to his roots. He coached high school ball for a year in York, S.C.

In March 2013, returned to college basketball. Mark Byington was been hired as Georgia Southern’s new head coach. Byington had spent years at College of Charleston and he knew Dixon was tough to beat on the recruiting trail. Byington wanted Dixon on his staff, so Dixon headed to Georgia Southern.

Georgia Southern is known as a football school, but basketball support was solid, and Georgia Southern athletics were getting ready to make a major transition from the Southern Conference to the Sun Belt. At Georgia Southern, Dixon shook off that label of being just a recruiting specialist. He had more input on that staff as a strategist and made strides as a developer of players. He became more well-rounded.

Dixon joined the South Florida coaching staff in May 2018. He helped the Bulls improve by 14 wins in his first season there. They became a much better defensive team and went 24-14. He was instrumental in the development of 2019 American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Laquincy Ridea.

Now the journey continues for Dixon back home in North Carolina.

The life of a college basketball assistant can be hectic and the hours of work required can be crazy, but Dixon loves basketball and loves working with the young players.

He’ll bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to N.C. State.