Only these guys have 25 years of history and built a program together.
Ben Howland actually recruited Jamie Dixon when the former was an assistant
at UC Santa Barbara and the latter was a little-known guard from Sherman Oaks
High in California.
"I applied because I wasn't very good and it was one of the worst
programs in Division I," Dixon, who averaged about three points a game in
high school, recalled.
Dixon, though, had a quality senior season and ended up going to TCU, where
he was an all-league player in 1997.
When Howland got his first head coaching job at Northern Arizona in 1994 he
brought Dixon on board. Dixon left for an assistant job in Hawaii (where his
wife is from) in 1998, and spent two years on the island before being coaxed by
Howland to join him when he got the head job at Pittsburgh in 2000.
"My wife and I had just gotten engaged," Dixon said. "Ben sold
her on moving to Pittsburgh. That's what he says was his greatest recruiting
Together, Howland and Dixon turned the Panthers into a Big East power before
Howland returned to the West Coast in 2003, replacing Steve Lavin at UCLA.
Dixon took over at Pittsburgh and the program didn't lose a beat.
The two coaches will oppose one another for the first time when No. 2 seed
UCLA faces No. 3 Pittsburgh in San Jose on Thursday.
"I don't feel any different whatsoever with this game," Dixon said.
C'mon. Let's be real. These guys practically grew up together. Dixon stayed
at Howland's parent's house in Santa Barbara and Howland used to crash at
Dixon's folks' home in Los Angeles. Howland's daughter, Meredith, is a student
It goes so deep that Howland was a pallbearer for Dixon's sister, Maggie,
after she died last year. Not at the request of Dixon but of his parents.
There's no way this is just another game.
"I don't want to play a close friend unless I have to," Howland
"I don't think it's another game for coach (Dixon)," Pittsburgh
junior swingman Mike Cook said. "He's real excited about this
The pair already has decided they won't ever face one another in a
"He doesn't play away from home, anyway," Dixon joked. "Not
that we play too many as well."
The coaching styles are similar. The players watch film and sometimes feel as
though they are looking in the mirror. Even the terminology is nearly identical.
However, the personnel aren't.
The Bruins have arguably the best perimeter trio of Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Josh Shipp while Dixon's Panthers boast one of the country's biggest
loads in the middle — hard-working senior 7-footer Aaron Gray.
It's the typical battle of Big East brawler against a soft Pac-10 team,
Howland has brought his hard-nosed attitude to Westwood — which resulted in
a championship game appearance a year ago. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has yet to
reach the Elite Eight, but the Panthers have gone to the Sweet 16 in four of the
past six seasons.
"I'm excited," Howland said with a smile on his face.
The pair admittedly are similar. They both breathe basketball and family.
They like to recruit the same types of players — physical guys who can defend.
Are there any differences?
"He's good looking," Howland jokes.
"Actually, Ben's at that stage where he lets everything roll a little
bit easier," said Patrick Sandle, a Pitt assistant who also worked under
Howland. "Dixon's more of a stickler for the particulars."
The two coaches still talk nearly every day, but both realize that it'll be
the players that ultimately determine who has bragging rights after the game.
"Jamie and I are going to be in this business a lot longer than just
tomorrow," Howland said. "So the focus in my mind, the NCAA
tournament, is about the players."
Not quite yet.