While representing Boston in the Battle of New England basketball tournament at Rucker Park in New York City this past summer, some of the best girls’ basketball players in Massachusetts got introduced to a local legend.
Medina Dixon, who died Monday morning from pancreatic cancer, was the top-ranked girls’ basketball prospect in the nation when she led Cambridge Rindge & Latin to a state title in 1981, the same year Patrick Ewing led Cambridge to a third straight boys’ basketball championship.
The 6-foot-3 Medina went on to win an NCAA title at Old Dominion in 1985, was the leading scorer on the 1992 Women’s Dream Team that won bronze at the Barcelona Summer Olympics, and played 10 years of pro basketball in Italy, Japan, and Russia.
So when current star athletes like Duke University-bound Bridgewater-Raynham senior Shay Bollin got a chance to speak with Medina, they listened.
“Medina was more of an inspiration to the girls’ basketball world more than she ever even realized,” said Bollin.
“She was a fierce competitor with an amazing heart and I was able to see that first-hand this summer. Having her alongside us fired us up beyond belief. We knew how special it was to have her there and wanted to honor her more than anything.”
Bollin and her Boston teammate beat New York to win the tournament championship on July 31 and Medina was honored at halftime by the WNBA’s Liberty. Her cousin, Al McClain, directed the event and dedicated it to Medina during her ongoing fight. McClain, who has been mentoring and coaching young athletes for 35 years in Boston, said every tournament he directs will be in her honor going forward.
“Everything I do now is in Medina’s name, especially when it comes to basketball,” said McClain, a star player at the University of New Hampshire who was drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1984.
“She was sick for a little while, but she got strong for the events. I just wanted to give her as much love as we could, just to give her the inspiration to fight a little longer. And she fought. She made all those events, and she was happy.”
Growing up in Mattapan with 10 siblings, including her older brother Robin Dixon, Medina learned how to compete on and off the court.
Robin recalled how she would join her brothers at the Joseph Lee School or at Almont Park for pickup games, where she would do more than just hold her own.
“We all took our cues from our siblings, and each one influenced the other, especially in sports,” said Robin, who starred alongside McClain at UNH and was drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1983.
“It was a great environment for her. She spent most of her time playing with the boys, and I have to tell you, they were afraid of her. No one wanted to get embarrassed by Medina, and she made you look bad real often.”
After graduating from Cambridge, Medina led the US. Junior National Team in scoring during a tournament in Yugoslavia, then starred at South Carolina in the 1981-82 season. When a scandal forced coach Pam Parsons out, Medina transferred to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia. She led the Lady Monarchs one step further in each of her subsequent campaigns, eventually leading the program to its only NCAA Tournament title in 1985.
In 1997, Medina Dixon was elected into the Cambridge Rindge & Latin Hall of Fame and in 2011, became the seventh women’s basketball player to have her number retired at Old Dominion.
“[Medina] was the pioneer. Especially in Massachusetts, where she established the standard for women’s basketball,” said Robin.
“She basically established college basketball on a larger scale for women. It was a conscious effort on her part to really set the standard for Massachusetts and bring some coaches here. Sometimes you need that trend-setter to establish a foundation that others can build on, and she’s created a lot of opportunities for the young ladies in the state.”