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Now Johnny is on the spot

Dawkins gets chance at the Stanford helm

By Janie McCauley
Associated Press / October 26, 2008
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STANFORD, Calif. - Johnny Dawkins is keeping Mike Krzyzewski on speed dial this season, certain they will speak regularly during Dawkins's rookie year as Stanford's men's basketball coach.

Not that Dawkins isn't ready for his first stint in the hot seat. He spent the past nine years as the top assistant at Duke under Coach K and they worked together in August to lead the Americans to basketball gold in the Beijing Olympics.

"I wake up every morning excited I'm the head coach at Stanford," said Dawkins. "There's nobody happier than I am to be a head coach, especially at this university. The biggest change is I'm no longer making suggestions, I have to make the decisions. Everything stops with me. That's the biggest adjustment for me. That 18 inches over [on the bench] changes everything.

"I may now be aging in dog years."

Since he was hired in the spring, Dawkins had spent much of his time on the road recruiting, and getting ready for and attending the Olympics in China, so it's been a whirlwind. He's relieved to be in town for a while now and working daily with his new team.

"That's a little bit refreshing," Dawkins said. "We're able to spend time with our guys because we're not on the road as much and we're in one place, so we can get to know the team and cultivate those relationships being that we have a lot of new players and new staff."

In Dawkins, Stanford found someone from another storied program to lead the Cardinal, who will look to stay near the top of the talented Pac-10 despite losing twin 7-foot centers Brook and Robin Lopez to early departures for the NBA.

The 45-year-old Dawkins was an All-American at Duke and had been on the coaching staff there since the 1997-98 season. He's played for a national championship and won it all as a coach.

"It'll be different," Krzyzewski said of not having Dawkins beside him. "Johnny was ready, and has been ready to be a head coach for a while. I've had a great staff, have a great staff, but I like the fact of some change."

That long-tenured Duke experience is part of what impressed Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby, who hired Dawkins in April to replace Pac-10 Coach of the Year Trent Johnson, who left for LSU in a surprising move.

Dawkins's track record speaks for itself - and from Day 1 his players accepted the new man in charge.

One of the most decorated players in Duke history, Dawkins scored 2,556 career points, which stood for 20 years as the Blue Devils' scoring record until it was surpassed in 2006 by J.J. Redick.

Dawkins's No. 24 was retired at Duke and he also played nine seasons in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Detroit Pistons. He was selected 10th overall in the 1986 draft by San Antonio.

Like Duke, Stanford will play an up-tempo style, and Dawkins knows Coach K will provide some guidance whenever needed.

"I told him I plan on utilizing it," Dawkins said of calling his longtime boss. "I know the way I want to play, the way we want to play. We don't want to play a half-court game, but that doesn't mean we're running breakneck speed downcourt. We want to be in control."

Guards Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods are Dawkins's co-captains and top returners along with senior Lawrence Hill.

The Cardinal reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2001, losing to Texas. They went 28-8 and finished second in the Pac-10.

Stanford's players are already on board with their new staff, and trying to survive the grueling practices Dawkins demands to get his team in shape to run the floor.

"It's night and day," Goods said of the difference in the pace of practice. "I definitely think it's the right fit. He's very businesslike. He's not a yeller and a screamer, but he'll let you know when you're doing something wrong. He's very hands-on. In practice, he expects perfection and he stops to show us what we have to do.

"You can't tell he's been an assistant coach for all these years. He definitely came in and took things by the horn. He knows more about basketball than any of us out there on the floor. He was definitely ready for this and all the players respect him."

Dawkins wants the Cardinal to set their own expectations and not be concerned with what outsiders say. Many figure the team will be down after losing the Lopez twins - and Dawkins understands that.

"Those kids are terrific players. They're lottery picks. You don't just step up and replace those guys," he said. "But we do have a good nucleus of guys returning. We have some experience returning. We know who we are. We know what we want to do. Let's make sure we stay true to that.

"There's an adjustment. The young men who were recruited here were recruited to play a different system than we're playing. But our guys have bought in. They want to do it and be good at it."

Dawkins has plenty of family support. He and his wife, Tracy, have four teenage children - and three of them moved West to Stanford. Their oldest is finishing high school in North Carolina and living with Tracy's parents.

When Dawkins left Duke, Krzyzewski said there had been no one else in his 28 years at the school who did more to build the program - as a player or coach. That's one of the best compliments Dawkins could get.

"I've been involved in the game all my life. This is a great way for me to give back to it," he said. "The game has been good to me, before I ever came here. There's a lot about success and chasing it. That's what you try to attain in your life. At some point in time it's about substance. For me, this is about substance here. It's an opportunity to go on this journey with a group of guys I want to be with. Let's see what we can do."

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