May 24, 2004
DURHAM Now that John Thompson III has been hired at Georgetown, you can add another head coaching job to the list of those that lead Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins either didn't get or didn't want. Thompson's quick ascension from the Ivy League to the Big East was hardly surprising, especially considering his bloodline and his success at Princeton, but Dawkins' candidacy was just as attractive if not more so. Dawkins, who is heading into his eighth season on Mike Krzyzewski's staff in Durham, has been the Blue Devils' associate head coach since 1999. He is a D.C. native who was a coveted recruit at the same time the elder John Thompson was building Georgetown into a national power. After a playing career in which he set the standard for scoring at Duke and then had a nine-year run in the NBA, Dawkins eventually made his way back to his alma mater. The move seemed natural, considering that he and his wife Tracy called Durham home even during Johnny's days as a pro. But while former Krzyzewski aides Tommy Amaker (Seton Hall/Michigan), Mike Brey (Delaware/Notre Dame) and Quin Snyder (Missouri) have moved on to high-profile head coaching jobs, Dawkins has remained at Krzyzewski's side. His name came up for the Arkansas opening after Nolan Richardson's firing two years ago. His name was mentioned in connection with Auburn this year, and he was widely reported as a candidate for the Georgetown job until Thompson got it. Perhaps Georgetown was leery of Dawkins' lack of head coaching experience, despite years of learning at the feet of the master. Craig Esherick studied under Thompson the father, and all that got him was fired after not much success as the leader of the Hoyas. Inexperience could be a further liability in a conference that soon will include Hall of Fame leaders such as Louisville's Rick Pitino and Cincinnati's Bob Huggins in addition to the legends that are already there, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse and Jim Calhoun of Connecticut. Another possibility is that the elder Thompson exerted his influence over the process, although it's not clear how much interest he had in the whole situation. When he was asked at the sub-regionals in Raleigh about the candidates for the job, his curt reply was: "I don't know, and I don't care." He might have been miffed about the firing of Esherick, his former assistant and hand-picked successor, or maybe Georgetown's curious decision not to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Thompson's lone national championship. Regardless of Thompson's involvement, it seems like one call from Krzyzewski recommending Dawkins for the job would carry almost as much weight. At the Final Four, Dawkins said he had not been contacted by Georgetown and issued the obligatory I'm-just-concentrating-on-my-team statement. He has been quiet since, turning down numerous requests for interviews. The silent treatment may not be a wise move for Dawkins. While it would be understandable if he doesn't want to discuss his job possibilities or personal career decisions in the public forum, he still needs plenty of practice with his public-speaking and media-relations skills. In stark contrast to Amaker, Snyder and even personable young Duke assistant Chris Collins, Dawkins is not yet a smooth talker or a comfortable interview subject, despite his recent role as a stand-in for Krzyzewski during halftime TV interviews and other media opportunities. Some college administrators believe that seemingly minor factor has hurt Dawkins' chances of landing a desirable head coaching job. If Dawkins was not interested in Georgetown and it's hard to imagine a job more ideally suited to him that may be the ultimate signal that he is with Duke for the long haul, whether because his family is entrenched there or because he believes he is the most likely candidate to replace Krzyzewski when the king steps down from his throne. If the latter is true, Dawkins could turn out to be the Blue Devils' equivalent of UNC's Bill Guthridge. He had better hope not, because following a legend is a thankless job. Dawkins probably would be better off trying to make his own fame while he still can. NBA Attrition Nothing New Here As recently as late April, Duke was a heavy favorite to make a second straight trip to the Final Four and maybe collect the fourth national championship that eluded it in San Antonio. Two weeks later, the Blue Devils were left to consider the prospect of playing next season without would-be sophomore forward Luol Deng and incoming point guard Shaun Livingston. Duke is no stranger to attrition, though, and somehow it always has found a way to bounce back. In 1999, the Blue Devils saw sophomore forward Elton Brand, freshman swingman Corey Maggette and sophomore guard William Avery leave simultaneously, after a loss in the national championship game. The next season, the Devils still won the ACC title and advanced to the Sweet 16. A year after winning the 2001 national title, junior forward Carlos Boozer, junior swingman Mike Dunleavy and junior guard Jason Williams entered the NBA draft. With a young lineup in 2003, Duke again won the ACC title and reached the Sweet 16. Life without Deng and Livingston might prove to be Krzyzewski's greatest challenge yet. In what is expected to be an even more competitive ACC than last year, a first-division finish for the Blue Devils is not as certain as it has been in recent years. Wake Forest and Georgia Tech will be clear favorites over Duke's now-depleted roster, which consists of six returning scholarship players, along with one great recruit and one good one. ACC champion Maryland, North Carolina and N.C. State also figure to be ranked in the top 25 in the preseason. As strange as it may sound, the Blue Devils occupying sixth place in the league is not entirely out of the question. The problem isn't that Duke lost a great number of players, but who the players were and what roles they would have played. Deng and Livingston both would have started, with Deng presumably taking over as the Blue Devils' No. 1 option on offense as well as the team's emotional leader. Livingston almost certainly would have been the main man at point guard from Day One. Now the mantle of go-to guy likely will fall to rising junior wing guard J.J. Redick, who needs a complementary threat in order to maximize his open looks at the basket. As for who will step into departed point guard Chris Duhon's shoes as the Blue Devils' leader, it will have to be someone with not a great deal of experience in such matters. Rising junior Sean Dockery probably will be handed the point guard reins as a junior. If the Blue Devils are to be as resilient as they have been in the past when faced with this sort of attrition, Dockery will have to be a major reason why.