Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins knows the Senior Day drill as well as anyone in college basketball. He’s seen the tears, and shed a few himself.
In his final season at Duke, 1985-86, Dawkins was the national Player of the Year. Much like Arizona this year, the Blue Devils were undefeated at home, 15-0, the first of Mike Krzyzewski’s sensational teams.
On Sunday, Dawkins left McKale Center under the cover of darkness; his team showered, dressed and left for the airport even before Arizona had completed its Senior Day net-cutting and Tour de Zona Zoo.
It was the proper decorum for the losing coach, whose team was caught in the crossfire and had no chance. Dawkins didn’t even chafe at the referees, at which he has become notably accomplished.
The undercard to Sunday’s game was the Sean Miller vs. Johnny Dawkins coaching competition. Do you realize that Miller is 8-0 against Stanford? Against Dawkins?
A year before Miller was a twinkle in UA athletic director Jim Livengood’s eye, Dawkins had taken over a Sweet 16 program at Stanford, one which arguably had been the Pac-12’s best for the past decade.
Once he got his recruiting feet under him, Dawkins put into motion the Class of 2010, a foursome that included current Stanford seniors Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, Anthony Brown and Aaron Bright.
No team in the Pac-12 has been more settled. No team in the league could look down the road the way Stanford did five years ago and say “by 2014, we should be cutting down the nets.”
After giving Dawkins a year’s head start, Miller arrived at Arizona and has essentially turned the roster over three times.
Incredibly, Miller is working on his fifth starting point guard, a rotation that began with Nic Wise and has rolled through MoMo Jones, Josiah Turner, Mark Lyons and now, the best of all, T.J. McConnell.
Shouldn’t the roles have been reversed on Sunday?
Wasn’t it Miller who should’ve said (as Dawkins did) “They’re poised, they don’t rush, they get good shots and they’ve been an outstanding defensive team all year.”
Johnny Dawkins has yet to take Stanford to the NCAA tournament.
It’s almost inconceivable that a year ago Arizona went to the NCAAs with a roster that included five soon-to-be-departed players — Lyons, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Grant Jerrett and Angelo Chol — and not only survived their loss but have returned to March with a superior team.
Moreover, you can add injured Brandon Ashley to the list. That’s six former elite-level recruits gone in a year’s time, and yet the Wildcats are 27-2.
On Monday, 18 hours after cutting down the nets, Miller returned to McKale Center and rather than talk about any coaching genius said, simply, “We had a number of players we knew could do more.”
This is a new way of basketball at Arizona. New players arrive and leave before the ink dries in the game program. Senior Day honors one senior. Given the game’s 21st century transitory nature, it won’t be long until Arizona won’t have a senior for Senior Day.
Miller has succeeded because not only do his players work to make themselves better, he insists they work to make their teammates better, too.
Many coaches are unable to pull that off.
“Sean Elliott isn’t going to get to become a senior anymore, so obviously there’s more turnover,” Miller said Sunday. “And if as a coach you say, ‘Who’s coming back who’s not, who could make a good decision, who potentially could make a decision that’s a horrible one,’ you’d go stir crazy.”
At Stanford, Dawkins had a Duke pedigree, a knockout recruiting class and the momentum from 20 years of Stanford basketball excellence.
I thought he would be the Home Run Hire that Miller has turned out to be.
My first recollection of Dawkins as a coach came at the 2008 NCAA tournament in Washington, D.C. My press seat was immediately behind Duke’s bench as Arizona waited to play West Virginia in a first-round game.
In the game’s final media timeout, Duke was trailing Belmont, of all teams, and Krzyzewski, who had flulike symptoms, requested that Dawkins take charge of the huddle.
In those two minutes, Dawkins tore into the Dookies as if the Gates of Hell had parted. He was loud. He was in-your-face. He called down some thunder.
Duke won when Belmont missed the game’s last shot, 71-70.
I remember thinking that someday Dawkins had a chance to replace Krzyzewski and carry on Duke’s great basketball tradition, possibly becoming the next franchise coach in college basketball.
Instead, Miller has become that coach, carrying on the tradition, cutting down nets, calling down the thunder.