Legendary Minnesota coach retires as 3 players head to Paralympics

A legendary wheelchair basketball coach is stepping away from the game after 26 years of leading Minnesota teams.

Doug Dixon has three national championships on his ledger and he coached three members of this year’s Team USA headed to the Paralympics in Paris.

It all starts at the Courage Kenny gym, a place where champions grow. The Golden Valley campus is home to the Junior Rolling Timberwolves, a world-renowned wheelchair basketball program led by Coach Dixon.

"It's so rewarding," said Dixon. "And it's also a ton of pressure."

Dixon discovered the sport when his son, Joe, was 4 years old and living with spina bifida.

"We don't know anything about it, but we're going to get the kids together, and we're going to get out the little plastic hoop, and we're going to see," Dixon said. "What I perceived it to be was kind of open gym playtime for the disabled kids, you know, pass the ball. 'Oh, good job. You caught it.' And what I found out it was, was not. It is highly competitive. Fast."

At the time, coaching seemed like a long shot, but to his surprise, it actually worked.

"So it's been 26 years total," he said. "I had to learn the game from scratch. I don't know if you've ever tried to teach something that you never played. It's way more difficult. I was bluffing for six or seven years."

Doug Dixon (FOX 9)

He may be selling himself short.

He started with a suburban team and jumped to Courage Kenny in 2009. Since then, his teams made it to five national championship games, won three, and sent several players to compete in college on scholarship.

His former players make up a quarter of Team USA this year, and they tell me it’s because he teaches fundamentals like nobody else.

"I kept using all of the things that I've learned from Doug," said Abby Bauleke, a star on the University of Alabama team and a starter for Team USA. "I still do."

"It all starts from the ground up," said Josie Aslakson.

She's another 2024 Paralympian and the head coach at the University of Arizona, a branch of Dixon’s coaching tree.

He says Aslakson barely spoke when she started with the Timberwolves, but a good balance of discipline and patience helped her rise to stardom.

"She just developed almost more as a human than she did as a player," Dixon said. "But, you know, obviously she's pretty good player, too."

"You need to know that you can go to your coach and talk to them if you need something, and you can trust them because they care about you like a parent," Aslakson said.

Dixon thought he might retire when his son moved on to play at Missouri. Or when superstar Rose Hollerman left for the University of Illinois. But he kept developing stars of the game.

He’s finally ready to hand over the reins — to a member of his 2010 national championship team — and so he gets a little emotional scanning the court for memories.

"I just remember people making half-court shots and three-pointers and intense scrimmages," Dixon said. "This gym actually should have banners all over it."

Dixon’s getting offers to stay in the game, but he plans to stay at home to watch his former players in Paris, and then he’ll take off a full year.

After that, he might take another shot at helping.