clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Dawkins Skeptic

Looks Johnny Dawkins is going to have some work to do to win over columnist Tim Kawakami, who shares in the general disdain people in the bay area seem to have for how Stanford's Bob Bowlsby handled the contract with Trent Johnson and the subsequent search for a new coach. We agree with him on Bowlsby: the guy nearly destroyed Stanford's program. We disagree with him on Dawkins, which you might expect, since we've followed him a lot longer than has Kawakami, who says that "Dawkins seems like a dignified, thoughtful man, but if he turns out to be a great coach for Stanford, it will only be by luck or by Bowlsby calling in some favors for an admissions break or two."

He goes on:

Dawkins has no West Coast connections. He has no Stanford connections. He is used to recruits lining up for Coach K. He will be going up against Mike Montgomery, Ben Howland, Lute Olson and Tim Floyd, among others, and they do have some coaching experience.

Dawkins, not surprisingly, sounds like he wants to transfer Coach K's philosophies from Cameron Indoor Stadium to Maples Pavilion, and I don't think it works that way.

He's correct in saying that Dawkins has no West Coast or Stanford connections. But you can hire people who do, and the rest of it is debatable.

There are some aspects of Krzyzewski's philosophy that will fit nicely at Stanford. When Coach K was hired at Duke, his military background put some people off. As it turned out, it was a brilliant fit. He was minutely organized and insisted on a very high level of honesty, discipline, and accountability. You can run a much looser ship at a school which is less academically demanding.

This would be a good time to note that Dawkins has expressed a desire to be at a school precisely like Stanford, where academic excellence is no joke. There are some stories that Larry Brown was looking at the job, and we can all but guarantee you that he would have insisted on "flexibility" from the admissions department before taking the job. There's a lot to be said for hiring a guy who sees excellence as an asset rather than as a limitation.

If you want to cut through the crap, what Kawakami, and a lot of other people are arguing involves a very coded discussion of race: they're arguing that Stanford can't compete with the sort of athletes that UCLA and Arizona can recruit, that Stanford can only recruit a limited number of those players.

Well, yes and no.

Is Stanford going to be able to go toe-to-toe for the top 25 players every year? Kawakami is correct that a lot of those players wouldn't get through Stanford's admissions department.

But look at it a little differently: could Clemson's Cliff Hammonds have gotten in? He was a serious recruit for the football program, so presumably so. Sasha Kaun? Almost certainly. Luol Deng? We're guessing yes. Stephon Curry? Jason Richardson? David West from Xavier? David Robinson?

Of those guys, Sasha Kaun was highly regarded, and of course Deng was a top five recruit. The rest could have just as easily gone to Stanford as anywhere else.

The point is this: there are more guys out there who can handle academics and athletics than it might appear. The challenge is to identify them and convince them to come.

Duke has managed to do this fairly well over the years, and while in recent years they've recruited the elite players, before they did that, they found guys who were pretty darn good but not great, or at least not elite recruits, and they made them into effective players and great teammates. Think about Robert Brickey, John Smith, Tommy Amaker, Brian Davis, and so on.

Now, he's correct in saying that Dawkins lacks West Coast connections, of course, but so did Herb Sendek. He has made up for it fairly quickly at Arizona State, and he did it by hiring a guy who does know the West. There are the obvious places to look - the Brophy Preps, the Catholic schools in L.A. and other schools which get kids more prepared for a place like Stanford. But there are also guys like Hammonds and West, promising athletes who haven't fully shown their potential but who can handle demanding academics.

That requires a deeper search than just hitting the highlight games at an AAU tournament, but if you need to do that, what better place could you possibly look than California? You have a huge population base, the Pacific Northwest is next door, and lately lots of good players have popped up in Arizona and Nevada, not to mention Alaska.

The whole West Coast thing is somewhat limiting, though: Vic Bubas pioneered national recruiting at Duke, and Coach K pretty much perfected it. When you have a smaller pool of prospects, you have to think somewhat unconventionally (playing Brickey in the post was one of Krzyzewski's most brilliant adaptations to talent, in our opinion), and you have to start with a big pool and narrow it to your specific requirements.

Stanford has a lot more potential than some people think, and just because they haven't figured out a model other than Mike Montgomery's doesn't mean that's the only way to do it. Aside from a different approach to recruiting stateside, there's no particular reason not to look at other sources of talent. Maryland is bringing in a Korean player, and China has become a significant basketball power lately, as has Australia. Then there's Argentina and Venezuela.

If Kawakami expects a team with classically defined positions and players, odds are he won't get it. But he might like what he does get.