College basketball: Dixon building at VUL

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

Marvin Dixon in 2004 SHS-West Rowan Alumni Game. James Barringer photo.




By Mike London

LYNCHBURG, Va. — There was a 2A basketball playoff game in 1994 in which Salisbury High senior Marvin Dixon had 32 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Hornets to a victory over Newton-Conover.

Thirty years later, the 6-foot-7 Dixon, who scored 698 points in his two varsity seasons at Salisbury, is still in the game. Back in May, on his 48th birthday, he was named as head men’s basketball coach at Virginia University of Lynchburg.

“A blessing for me that came right out of the blue,” Dixon said. “A nice birthday present.”

A blessing and a present, but also a challenge.

Dixon applied when he found out the job was open. After an interview two weeks later, Tim Newman, who wears the double hats of football coach and athletic director at Virginia University of Lynchburg, hired him.

Virginia University of Lynchburg is often referred to as VUL. The HBCU school has an interesting history, dating back to 1886 when it was founded as Lynchburg Baptist Seminary. After several name changes, the school was incorporated as Virginia University of Lynchburg in 1996.

VUL has deep roots in athletics. It was around for the start of the CIAA and competed in the CIAA from 1921 to 1954. In modern times, the blue and white VUL Dragons, have competed as part of the National Christian College Athletic Association.

The VUL basketball schedule for the 2024-25 season hasn’t been completed yet, but Dixon said the team will open play in Johnson C. Smith’s Tip-Off Tournament, which usually includes Livingstone. Dixon said there will be a lot of familiar Virginia D-IIIs on the schedule, schools such as Ferrum and Randolph. There are a lot of D-III colleges in Virginia.

Dixon is part of a tall family of basketball players. His younger brother, South Rowan graduate Carlos Dixon, starred at Virginia Tech. Marvin’s cousin, Larry Dixon, who is a few years older, was a standout at North Rowan and Johnson C. Smith before launching a long and successful college coaching career. Larry is currently an assistant coach at N.C. State.

Back in March, Larry provided tickets for Marvin and his son to watch N.C. State beat UNC in the ACC Tournament championship game in Washington, D.C.

Larry’s long and successful coaching journey has provided most of the inspiration for Marvin’s career.

“Larry is the one who always told me that if I wanted to get into college coaching, it was going to have to start with earning a college degree,” Dixon said.

Coming out of high school, Marvin followed Larry’s path to Johnson C. Smith and played a season for the Golden Bulls before heading to Odessa Junior College, the famed Texas powerhouse that produced national titles and UNLV superstar Larry Johnson. The idea was that Odessa would open up Division I doors for Dixon, and that proved to be the case.

Dixon starred at Odessa, averaging a double-double and leading the league with four blocks per game. He shined brightly enough that he attracted offers from Utah, North Carolina State, Florida, St. John’s, Xavier and Cincinnati, among others.

He liked Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins and picked the Bearcats, a signing that was enthusiastically reported by Cincinnati newspapers in April 1997. Dixon had a 3.2 GPA at Odessa, but before his transcript could be sent to Cincinnati he had to pass all three parts of  the Texas Academic Skills Program. Dixon handled the reading and math parts of the exam with no problem, but he came up short on the writing skills portion. His scholarship to big-time college sports was revoked on what would be the most disappointing day of his life.

The support of Dixon’s parents and a motivational phone call from Huggins eventually got him moving again.

Dixon enrolled at Pfeiffer, a Division II school close to home, but then the opportunity to play for pay overseas came up, and Dixon was on the move again. Not finishing college when he was young was a decision that would affect the direction of his life, but there were bills to be paid and buckets to be made.

Dixon made those buckets in a lot of gyms in a lot of places. He dunked in Norway, Ireland, Israel, Ireland, Argentina and Australia. His best memories are of Australia.

As his playing days wound down, Dixon competed in minor leagues back in the states, for teams with exotic names such as the Macon Blaze. He began a transition to coaching in South Carolina with the Greenville Galaxy. He served as an assistant coach for three years at Salisbury High, but without a college degree there was only so far he could go in coaching.

In 2015, when he was 39, he made the decision to return to the classroom at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, where he spent time in the dual roles of student and assistant basketball coach.

Barber-Scotia would eventually give him his first chance as a college head coach and he also would serve as assistant AD.

In 2017-18, Dixon worked as an assistant coach for a season under Livingstone’s long-time men’s basketball coach James Stinson. It was during his time back in Salisbury at Livingstone that Dixon completed work on his bachelor’s degree.

Since then, he’s been an assistant coach at Clinton College, a two-year school in South Carolina, and he’s been head basketball coach at North Hills Christian School in Salisbury.

Then he moved to Newport News, Va., going to work in the school system (Woodside High School) while serving as an assistant basketball coach at Virginia Peninsula Community College.

That’s a lot of stops. Now it’s VUL, where he hopes to provide some stability for his wife and son and to build a competitive program.

“I’ve got lot of basketball experience and lots of life experience to pass on to the young guys,” said Dixon, who has been married for 10 years (Rakeyia) and has a 6-year-old son named Jordan, who is tall for his age and is a blossoming baseball phenom.

Dixon said the VUL roster he inherited was depleted, but he’s been busy recruiting and has 11 players now.

“They had a tough season, a bad experience, and a lot of players decided not to come back,” he said. “But we’re getting some good recruits. There’s a lot of talent in the area.”

Dixon has at least one familiar recruit — 2019 North Rowan graduate Derrick Page, who was the floor leader for North’s 28-3 team his senior year. That team, coached by Jason Causby, had Dayjuwon Cooke and Brevin Goodlett soaring around the rim. Page got them the ball.

A 6-foot-2 guard, Page enrolled at Catawba after high school graduation, but he was assigned to the jayvee team. He never played for the Indians.

After COVID, Page played two seasons at Hocking College in Ohio, where he was one of the top reserves for strong teams.

Now he’s going to get back on the floor for Dixon at VUL. Dixon said Page still has two years of eligibility.

“Derrick is the kind of guy I want playing for me,” Dixon said. “He’s a God-first young man, with very high character. He’s got a high basketball IQ and he’s got a chance to be our quarterback, our leader.”