In Depth: Johnny DawkinsBy Mark Soltau November 21, 2011, 4:56 pm
Johnny Dawkins Q&A
Editor’s note: Johnny Dawkins has just embarked on his fourth season as the Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men’s Basketball at Stanford University. Dawkins, a native of Washington, D.C., attended Duke University, where he was a standout guard and two-time All-American. As a senior, he was named the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1986, leading the Blue Devils to the NCAA Finals. Dawkins left as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,556 points—since eclipsed—and his No. 24 jersey has been retired. Following college, Dawkins was the 10th pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs and played nine pro seasons, averaging 11.1 points, 5.5 assists, and 2.5 rebounds. After his retirement, he returned to Duke and rejoined head coach Mike Krzyzewski as an assistant coach for 10 seasons before coming to Stanford in April of 2008. Passionate about his profession and his players, Dawkins sat down with Mark Soltau last week for an extensive Q&A. He is excited about his team and the future of Cardinal basketball.
Q: What are the keys to success this season?
A: I think one of the things that we have is depth and not much separation. The good thing about that is we have a number of guys that can contribute on any given night. The thing that we have to improve on is developing some go-to guys, guys that we feel on a nightly basis are the guys that we can play off of. Josh Owens is one of those guys. We don’t have a returning player that has had to carry the load on this team. So they’re all trying to find their way, trying to get a better feel for their roles and also trying to figure out how they can help this team win.
Q: Early on, were there any signs of guys saying, ‘If Jeremy Green was here . . . '?
A: Fortunately, we had those early six games when we were on a foreign tour in Spain and he wasn’t with us. I think the guys should be somewhat over that. I’m sure at times, guys have a sense that he could be here with us. But you know what, our kids haven’t boarded up, and we think we have a good team in the locker room and great leadership. So we’re excited about this season and we’re getting better.
Q: Do you adapt to the players or do they adapt to you?
A: I try and make the players change and adapt to what I do. I understand the game changes and I am no longer a young man playing it, and so it’s a different game than when I first used to compete. But I still think the same values, standards, and principles apply with regards to leadership in that role. Absolutely, the players are going to play the way I would like for them to play out there on the floor for them to be successful. I think it’s important for the players to follow the coach’s lead and what he wants. I’ve been fortunate looking at our guys this season—I think they understand that—the value of going in that direction.
Q: Coming from a program like Duke, where winning is almost a foregone conclusion, have you had to temper your expectations at Stanford?
A: I’m a competitor. I don’t get much sleep. I want to win. I think it’s befitting of this program and everything this institution represents. We want to do our part. I’m always preaching that to our players about our responsibility to the institution. They understand that. My expectations are always going to be high. They’re as high as any top-five team in this nation and they always will be. The day that doesn’t happen for me is the day I need to go do something else. I compete to win, and I want my team to reflect that. And I understand it has to be a process at times, but it doesn’t mean I have to like the process. I value it. I understand it’s a necessary thing. But I want my guys to think that every time we step on the floor we have the capability of beating anyone we face. I want that mentality through all of my kids, through all of my teams.
Q: You coached at Duke with Mike Krzyzewski. Has he been your biggest coaching influence?
A: He’s been my biggest influence. I worked with him and coached with him for over a decade. I’ve had an opportunity to work under a number of different coaches, but no one has influenced my coaching career or impacted my life as much as Coach K has. The main thing I always want to instill in my players, and he instilled in us, is just the highest of standards whenever we step on the court, and that’s with everything we do. With how you play, how you carry yourself on the court. You’re a direct reflection of the university and the guys in the locker room, and so you have to go out there and understand you’re always representing them. Your play says a lot about who you are and how we are as a program. That’s very important for me, to make sure our kids are always representing themselves the right way.
Q: How often do you talk to Coach K?
A: I speak to him regularly. I’m always interested in knowing what he’s doing with his family, and we talk some basketball, too. Of course we're going to get into that. He’s a terrific resource and he’s a great friend. I called him when he tied the coaching record and called him again when he broke it. I was really happy for him. He used to say, ‘Always be careful whose bus you get on.’ I will never forget that. When I left a message, I said, ‘Coach, I’m happy I was on your bus. I was on the best bus ever. Thank you for all the memories.’ He took me on an incredible journey. It’s true. It was a wonderful experience and I loved every minute of it. It made me better.
Q: Are you a basketball junkie?
A: I would say I’m a basketball junkie. I watch it all the time, or am involved with our team and what we’re doing pretty much all the time. I love what I do. That’s why I know I’m very fortunate. I just love coaching and helping to develop young men. I had a terrific mentor who did that for me and it’s kind of my way of giving back to a game that’s been terrific in my life.
Q: Your freshman point guard Chasson Randle has great raw talent, but he’s still young. Is that part of your challenge, to teach him and help him grow as a player every day?
A: Absolutely. Chase is going through the natural maturation process like any freshman. He has talent and he’s going to have some terrific moments this season, but he still has to develop. He’s learning a lot. He’s playing point for us and off guard. So everything he’s having to learn is almost doubled up because he’s learning it from both spots on the floor. On the defensive end, all the different concepts and terminology—the language that we use compared to what he did in high school are night and day. So it’s a big learning curve right now, but he’s going to get it. He works hard and he’s conscientious. We have an amazing belief in him and he has a terrific belief in himself. It’s a matter of him working through these games and learning from his mistakes.
Q: Did you have an idol growing up?
A: I would say my dad. He was the one guy that stands out in my life. He was a Green Beret and just taught me about work ethic, discipline, character, and loyalty. It all started there for me. I was fortunate because I went and played for another guy in the military—Coach K. I’ve been put in a position in my life where I’ve had to lead a very disciplined life and approach to things and I’m very fortunate that I’ve had that. Those are things that have helped make me better. I’m very thankful to him for that.
Q: What has been your biggest adjustment coming to Stanford?
A: The transition off the court has gone smoothly. Everyone here has welcomed me with open arms. They’ve made me feel at home here, which is terrific. My biggest adjustment has been what we’re trying to do with our team and where I envision our program. As far as the culture here, coming from where I came from, there hasn’t been much adjustment. Is it different? Yes. Both places have been amazing and I’ve loved being part of the family here.
Q: Name a person you would like to meet?
A: A couple guys I would enjoy meeting, just because of their approach to life and what they have accomplished, would be Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Two guys who I think have done it differently, but have been very, very successful. You learn a lot about people through their actions. Both of those guys have been amazing at what they have accomplished, but both are amazingly generous. I really admire them for that. They’ve been two of the biggest successes and two of the biggest givers. Their actions speak louder than words.
Q: How do you relax from coaching?
A: The one thing I’ll do to try and decompress is I’ll try to go out with the family on family night. Sometimes we go to the movies. I’ll go out with my wife and my kids, if they want to go. It’s almost like a date night with my wife. Other than that, I’ll watch the news quite a bit. I was a political science major, so I like to see what’s going on. I’ll watch games, especially this time of year, because there are so many on.
Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
A: The few places I like to go to are Armadillo Willy’s and Il Fornaio. I really enjoy the meals.
Q: How important is patience in your job? Do you have to remind yourself that you are working with teenagers?
A: That’s tough for me, to be quite honest. Like I always tell our guys, ‘Being young is not an excuse.’ And I believe that. We have got to grow and mature. Absolutely we have a lot of young guys. But you want them to know that, ‘Hey, age is just a number and you can still go out there and win and be successful.’ I do understand that there is a certain amount of patience you have to have with the kids and I try to find that balance with them. I want them to enjoy winning. I don’t want to put them in a position where I’m on them so much that they can’t even enjoy a win. But, I don’t want them to enjoy it too long.
Q: What do you miss most about Duke?
A: That was home for me for a long time. More than half my life, to be quite frank. Probably a lot of friends and family, first and foremost. A few barbecue restaurants. Bullocks Barbecue. I’ve been very fortunate. I think a lot of people wish they were in my shoes and had been at that institution and this institution. It doesn’t get better than that.
Q: What do you listen to in the car?
A: I listen to music sometimes, but I’m not a big radio person. There’s a good chance I’m on my phone, because that’s a good chance to make some recruiting calls. I’m on my phone quite a bit. I listen to some R&B and jazz. I also listen to CNN or MSNBC.
Q: How do you feel about recruiting? Is it a grind?
A: I enjoy recruiting, because I enjoy getting to meet people and meeting their families and meeting the young men that will represent this university very well. We’ve been very fortunate. The kids that we’ve identified are kids that fit our culture and I think will be terrific student-athletes for us.
Q: How close is this program to being a consistent contender for the Pac-12 Championship?
A: We feel we’re starting to put the pieces in place. We’re starting to add to our depth now, which is very important for our success. And I think the type of young men that we are recruiting can impact us in our conference. Our most talented players are freshmen and sophomores, and we have a number of them that can really contribute. And we’re bringing in some young kids that we think will complement that group very well. So we think the future is bright here for the Cardinal. We just have to stay the course. We can’t let up with our standards and work ethic—have to continue to push them. Pressure makes diamonds. You have to push them beyond where they think they can go. And they have to allow us to do that. That’s why we have really, really high standards for what we want to do. I think our kids—especially this year—understand that more than they did last year. There was so much coming at them. They were a heralded class and everybody had high expectations, and we had expectations. They realized that there is a leap from high school to college. Not everyone just seamlessly jumps in there and plays. Matter of fact, it’s probably less than one or two percent of the kids in the country that will go into a college and influence it to that level, at any institution. So I think when our kids went through that, it was tough. And then we were driving them. We wanted to get better. I spent so much time in practice teaching. Eight of my guys, it was almost like teaching them from scratch. Josh Owens had only been with me for a year, then he was out for a year, then back. Then you had six freshmen. It was a lot of teaching and just trying to get the culture right. And then we didn’t have any seniors, no one to really show these guys what we wanted. So it was difficult for them. From that experience we grew closer. When we started the spring, we were as focused as we’d ever been. That led us into a great summer. We’re still in the process of developing. We have so much growing to do. We can get so much better. I see it. I kind of envision where they could be. It’s just a matter of going through the process of every day coming to work, coming to get better, and making no excuses about it. And it will happen. It’s fun watching our young players and our leaders figure it out. We’re in the stage of learning how to win. That doesn’t happen overnight. You keep executing and believing.
Q: How do you feel about the Sixth Man Club?
A: The first thing I’d like to say to the students is that we need you. In our sport, probably more than most, you gain a big-time home court advantage when your students are in there and they’re just loud and pulling for their team with all their hearts. That becomes a home court advantage. It becomes a neutral site if it’s not a great environment with our students. We don’t want that and we shouldn’t have that here. Our players, we support them going to other sports to watch, whether it’s football or volleyball, women’s basketball . . . we go out and see the other sports because we want to help encourage them and cheer them on. And we would love to have the Sixth Man Club come out and do the same thing for us. Some do. I see some faces that are there every night. But we want them to bring more young people out to really support us because we need to do this together. The basketball team won’t do it by themselves. And it was the same way when I was at Duke. You don’t do it by yourself in our sport. It takes a collective effort. Part of that effort is our fan base, especially our Sixth Man Club. At times, we’ve had games where they have been amazing. The atmosphere—it can be electric in that building when it happens. We want to get that back and have it here all the time. They have an amazing value and we think our kids deserve it. They will be proud of just how hard our kids train, how much they sacrifice and how committed they are to wanting to be a championship program here in our sport. All they want is a little support and encouragement from their peers. These guys are going to be friends with these students for the rest of their lives. That’s the beautiful thing about a place like this. And so they should come out and share some of the moments with these kids, and our kids, in turn, should share moments with them. With the kids we have on this campus, we could be so creative and it would be so much fun. Our kids would make them proud. All I ask is that the student body share in the experience.