For the fourth time, the Johnstown Panther Club welcomed Jamie Dixon to its seventh annual A Night With the Panthers on Thursday at Sunnehanna Country Club.
“This event has been terrific,” the Pittsburgh men’s basketball coach said. “It’s fun, and there are a lot of friends up here. It changes all the time, and you meet new people and see old friends at the same time.”
In the past couple years, this area has come to Dixon. The Pitt-Johnstown basketball team has played the Panthers in exhibition matchups, and Dixon said he looks forward to playing it again in the future.
“I love the idea of the exhibition games,” he said. “It was something brought up at the NEBC meetings. I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s served its purpose. You have the option of playing someone you usually don’t play or can’t play for scheduling purposes. It’s a good rule and rule change.”
The past season was UPJ’s first in Division II basketball and the PSAC. The Mountain Cats finished the season with a 13-13 overall record and a 6-10 conference record.
“It’s great that they (Pitt-Johnstown) joined the league (PSAC),” said Dixon. “I think it’s great that they include all of the high-caliber teams in the state.”
Dixon also mentioned the performance of Mountain Cats players Bill Luther and Andrew Cressler.
“They have a good program and are very well-coached,” he added.
Pitt-Johnstown isn’t the only tie with with Pitt basketball in the PSAC. The Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s men’s basketball coach, Joe Lombardi, was Dixon’s assistant coach for three years.
Lombardi has led the Crimson Hawks to three PSAC championships, and was a Division II NCAA runnerup in 2009.
“It’s great to see him doing well,” Dixon said. “That is a great conference with great rivalries.”
If it wasn’t for such a busy schedule and NCAA rules, Dixon said he would try to see more basketball athletes in the area.
“I wish I had time and opportunities to see local kids play,” he said. “But how the rules are in the NCAA, there are limitations on the days and who you can go see and how many times you can go out. It’s hard for a head coach to see kids in another area.”
Pittsburgh finished 26-10 in its inaugural season in the ACC. In the ACC tournament, the Panthers lost in the semifinals to Virginia. Pittsburgh was a No. 9 seed in the tournament and lost in the third round to Florida.
“In the conferences I’ve coached in, there’s always constant changes,” Dixon said. “Unfamiliarity with teams was normal. Then you have coaching changes that come through and change programs. You’re always adapting.
“I look at it as a merger rather than a new league for us.”
This year is Dixon’s 12th season as the Panthers’ head coach. He has a 288-96 record and 10 NCAA tournament appearances. Dixon said he feels that he will have a good team coming back for the 2014-15 season.
“I’m excited about the group we brought in,” Dixon said. “Kinda different and not your typical class for us. It depends on what you’ve got coming back and what you’ve got committed in the future. You’ve got to get a balance, and I think we did that. I think we filled the hole we hadn’t filled, and I don’t think that they are holes any longer.”
The event also was attended by first-year Pittsburgh women’s head coach Suzie McConnell-Serio.
The Johnstown Panther Club also honored Westmont Hilltop graduate Chris DelSignore as its chapter honoree.