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Coaches’ friendship enhances area rivalry

When first-year Linden head basketball coach Joe Eatmon accepted the job over the summer, he did not know his good friend Rodney Dixon would soon be competing against him. Dixon took his post as the head coach at John Essex just a few weeks later.

“I had no idea I was going to get a coaching job also and it just happened to be here,” Dixon said from the bleachers of the JEHS gym, some 28 hours before his team would take the court against Eatmon’s Patriots.

“He’s a great guy. He really deserved a shot as a head coach,” Eatmon said of Dixon. “He’s getting his guys to play hard and that’s what it’s all about.”

The pair met at the University of West Alabama in 2005 while Eatmon was on the UWA basketball team and Dixon was serving as a student assistant.

“Every practice and everything I went through, he went through,” Dixon said.

“We developed a good friendship and a good relationship there,” Eatmon said. “He’s a great guy, knows a lot about basketball.”

Perhaps the strength of their friendship is due, at least in part, to the manner in which their personalities complement one another.

Dixon is animated and charismatic. His passion for the game and concern for his players shines through at every practice and every game.

Conversely, Eatmon is laid back and low key. His coaching style is a mirror image of his calm, confident demeanor.

Soon after Dixon accepted his position at John Essex, the pair began to look forward to the rivalry that would naturally develop given their respective squads’ membership in AHSAA, Area 5.

“That’s exactly what I thought about,” Dixon said with a laugh. “I was hoping he didn’t have a good squad.”

Dixon now concedes that the talent of Eatmon’s bunch is ripe for success under its new head coach.

“He’ll have a lot of success,” Dixon said of Eatmon. “The guys he’s got going right now are all buying into his system.”

Since setting their respective schedules, the two have conversed about their impending contests and neither has been shy about ribbing the other.

“We’ve talked a little bit back and forth,” Eatmon said of the joking between the two.

“We talk about it, but I try to get off the subject whenever it comes up,” Dixon said.

The two will meet tonight at John Essex. And, regardless of what happens then during their Jan. 15 clash, each will continue to root for the other.

“As a coach, it’s another ball game,” Eatmon said in his customary, businesslike manner. “It’s a ball game we need to win and it’s a ball game he needs to win.”

Still, Eatmon could not help but to acknowledge there is a little something extra accompanying tonight’s game.

“It’s going to be fun to play against Rodney,” he said.

“I know I won’t be yelling at the other coach,” Dixon said with a smile before observing the fact that his friendship with Eatmon gives the game an additional element.

“It makes it more competitive also,” Dixon said.