Dawkins has learned to avoid outside pressure
Johnny Dawkins' father once caught his son reading positive press clippings during the teen's junior year of high school and quickly put an end to it, with the harsh reminder that the words wouldn't always be so kind.
Dawkins learned a valuable lesson from his dad that day that he still abides by all these years later while coaching the NCAA tournament-bound Stanford men's basketball team. As a college student, Dawkins had one slip up during a rough sophomore season at Duke but insists he hasn't read a word about himself since.
"And you can imagine how long that is now, I'm not getting any younger," the 50-year-old Dawkins said with a chuckle.
Even through the praise from coaching mentor Mike Krzyzewski when he departed Duke to lead his own program at Stanford, or the constant chatter over the past year about Dawkins' uncertain future if the Cardinal failed to reach the tournament — he has somehow ignored it all.
Now, Dawkins is back on that familiar big stage — for the first time as a head coach after some special runs as a player and Blue Devils assistant.
No. 10 seed Stanford (21-12) will face seventh-seeded New Mexico (27-6) on Friday in the South Regional at St. Louis. This marks the storied program's return to the tournament for the first time since 2008, coming two years after the Cardinal won the NIT championship in 2012.
Dawkins will continue to lead the program, with athletic director Bernard Muir acknowledging last spring the program needed to reach the NCAA tournament this season for Dawkins to stay. Everybody is moving forward and focusing on making sure Stanford's team of tournament first-timers doesn't get so caught up in the moment and the Cardinal lose their edge.
"He doesn't let outside things affect him," forward Josh Huestis said. "That's had a positive effect on us as well."
Some of Dawkins father's advice will be applied again through preparations for New Mexico. Dawkins still recalls their conversation clearly.
"He said: 'Well, because if you continue to read what you're reading, eventually it will always turn. And so if you can't handle reading the bad, you probably shouldn't even read the good, just let it all go," Dawkins said. "From that point on I never really kept up with what's said about me, unless someone says it directly to my face, I have really no clue. My players will tell you I'm the most mindless guy when it comes to knowing what's out there."
Dawkins was asked this week if he felt any redemption reaching this point, considering a rash of significant injuries and other circumstances in recent years contributed to the struggles.
Nope, not him. Dawkins has been an athlete and coach long enough to understand the demands and expectations in a results-oriented business — and one year back in the tournament is just considered one important step for a program that wants to be an annual participant again as Stanford used to be under former coach Mike Montgomery.
Even Dawkins' players have been impressed by and appreciative of his ability to focus on the task at hand each day, rather than worrying about his team's NCAA chances or bracket — or whether he would be back next year.
"Regardless of whether there was pressure on coach or pressure on any of us individually, collectively as a team we set this goal and we wanted to accomplish it," said senior Dwight Powell, who returned for his final season rather than entering the NBA draft last year. "We didn't want to let anything stand in the way regardless of things that have been said. We came here to play for him, and he believed in us bringing us in here. Regardless of what the situation may have seemed like as far as making it in or not making it in to the tournament throughout the season, we were just trusting his guidance."
Dawkins, who enjoyed a nine-year NBA career, played for a national title at Duke and won an NCAA championship as a coach for his alma mater.
Trips to the NCAA tournament used to be such a regular thing for Dawkins that his wife and kids got used to it, curious why it didn't also happen every year at Stanford.
"It doesn't work that way, this is something you have to earn,'" he recalled saying.
Now, he hopes Stanford can accomplish more than just a happy-to-be-there one-and-done.
While Dawkins doubted his father would make the trip from Maryland to St. Louis, he appreciates all those wise words along the way.
"I haven't really thanked him for it," Dawkins said. "I should."