Basketball: Dixon, Gibbs lead USA to first tournament win since 1991

By Jay Huerbin

Despite being more than 8,500 miles away from Pittsburgh, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn’t have… Despite being more than 8,500 miles away from Pittsburgh, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon didn’t have trouble finding success on the basketball court this summer.

This time it was at the 2009 FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.

Coaching the USA Under-19 basketball team, Dixon went a perfect 9-0 on his way to bringing home a gold medal to the United States — the first Under-19 gold medal since 1991.

Joining Dixon from Pitt for the United States was sophomore guard Ashton Gibbs, who finished fourth on the team with 9.8 points per game.

And now, Pitt basketball is on the international map.

Gibbs, a New Jersey native, was happy with the result after the United States defeated Greece, 88-80, in the championship game.

“It feels great,” he said. “Just to know that we worked hard enough for it and it paid off in the end.”

Dixon agreed.

“It was an honor to be invited, and it was a great experience,” he said. “I think for the players, [the international tournament] grew upon itself. They become more proud of what they were doing. They realized what they were doing. It was something that was bigger than themselves.”

For Dixon, the hard work started back in May when he was named the head coach after Davidson’s Bob McKillop dropped out to focus on his college team. Proxy-Connection: keep-alive

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rdue coach Matt Painter and Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery joined Dixon as assistants.

Together, the three coaches, along with USA Basketball, invited 17 athletes — including Gibbs and incoming Pitt freshman Dante Taylor — to tryout in mid-June for the national team. The final 12-man roster was announced prior to the team’s departure for New Zealand on June 25.

After going undefeated in the international tournament, Dixon said the team found success because the players bought into a system that all three coaches emphasized.

“We had three coaches who all stressed defense,” Dixon explained. “We had guys who could shoot. So, we knew going in that we were a shooting team and that we’d have to defend.”

And Dixon made sure the players understood the philosophy of strong defense and good shooting.

“Getting that message across was key,” he said. “Everybody played over 12 minutes per game and nobody played more than 22 minutes. So it was a group of 12 guys who were participating.”

Gibbs said he didn’t notice a difference between Dixon’s coaching strategy at Pitt and the United States Under-19 tournament.

“He brought the same things [to Team USA] and I think I benefited from that because we had the same practice system, practice situation, we ran the same drills,” Gibbs said.

“Throughout the whole tournament he coached the same way. He was defense-oriented … I think that’s one of the main reasons why we won the tournament.”

The scouting report was right and the coaching focus paid off. The United States was ranked first in the tournament with 84 3-point shots and averaged 40.1 rebounds and 6.2 blocks per game.

Dixon said part of the reason for success was the play of Gibbs, who led the United States with 203 minutes played in the tournament.

“Coach Painter and Coach Lowery did a lot of the substituting and they really wanted him in there at all times,” Dixon said about Gibbs. “He became our best perimeter defender and that’s what we need from him next year at Pitt.”

Gibbs finished fourth on the team with 9.8 points per game, while also recording seven steals and seven rebounds in the tournament.

The strong play of Gibbs was a good sign for Dixon, who expects Gibbs to make a big impact for Pitt basketball next season.

“Through all the things, I think the most important thing as a program [at Pitt] is that Ashton was able to play,” Dixon said. “We had a couple point guards drop out of camp and he really got thrust into that role. He did a really good job.”

That’s good news for fans who hope to see the Panthers return to the same post-season success they’ve enjoyed the last few years. And if that’s going to happen, Gibbs will need to be a part of it — something that he doesn’t mind doing.

“I just want to continue playing the way I was overseas,” Gibbs said. “I thought I was playing good ball … and I want to bring my winning ways back to get us to a Final Four and hopefully a National Championship.”

For Dixon, coaching in an international tournament added to his coaching strategy.

“It reinforced the value of good defense,” Dixon said about what he’ll bring back to Pitt basketball. “It was really just reinforcing some things, having good shooters, good kids.”

Since Pitt’s roster next season is one of the youngest in recent years, experience at any level is going to help the team. And although freshman forward Taylor did not make the final roster, Gibbs said he still feels Taylor will be ready for next season.

“I think he learned a lot,” Gibbs said. “He was playing against the best players in the country. I think he got better overall and prepared for the upcoming season. He’s going to be a great player for us.”