- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Andre Dawkins' decision to step away from college basketball is not one many players would make. When it was first announced last spring, it seemed mysterious -- why would a player with so much talent, who had just finished a productive third season at the school, decide to step away from hoops for an entire season? Before that announcement, the rumor mill was predictably rampant; Duke message boarders assumed Dawkins was in legal trouble, or being dismissed, or transferring.
That quieted down when Dawkins’ father made it clear Andre was still dealing with the grief over the loss of his sister, Lacey Dawkins, in a car accident during his freshman season in 2009.
Today, the Durham Herald-Sun has an update, with perspective from both of Dawkins’ divorced parents, on Andre’s struggles since his sister’s death. They decided a year away from basketball was the best thing; when Andre jumped back into the game in 2009, he never really had time to process what he was going through, they said. Their son is spending this season off campus, away from the team. And while Andrew seems to be doing better, things remain an uphill climb:
But Dawkins is receiving counseling to deal with the grief that has clouded his life since Dec. 5, 2009, when his sister died. It has become obvious to those closest to Andre Dawkins now that he has carried guilt for his sister’s death that few could see.
His father still lives in Chesapeake, Va., where Andre was raised and went to high school. This past spring, after Duke’s season had ended and the plan to have Dawkins sit out this season was being formulated, the elder Dawkins said an intense conversation with this son opened both their eyes to the situation.
“It was shocking to hear how he felt about that whole situation,” Andre Dawkins said. “That was huge for me to hear some of the things he said and also for him, too. I think he’s doing better. I see a change from that point, but it takes time.”
[…] “He opened up, finally,” said Andre Dawkins, the Duke player’s father. “I think with him getting help on it, seeing people and getting help, he’s able to look at things a lot better.”
Since he was 10 years old, the younger Dawkins dreamed of playing basketball at Duke. His family, complicated as it may be because his mother and father have been divorced for most of his life, agrees that not playing basketball this season is good for Andre.
“I think when you have something that troubles you and it’s associated with basketball, I think you need to take a break,” Tammy Hill-Dawkins said. “I think it’s right to take a break, and he’ll be back.”
We often hear about how basketball can be a salve, how it can provide a person struggling with grief or depression some inner peace, or a sense of purpose, or a community to lean on when things grow dark. And these things are true, much of the time.
But sometimes we miss the flip-side -- the way basketball (or any team sport, or your job, or your favorite TV show) can merely be a distraction, a way to ignore and avoid trauma, a handy method for pushing your hurt deeper inside.
According to his parents, that appears to be what happened to Andre Dawkins. It’s heartbreaking stuff, and we can only wish him a healthy year off the court, a steady return to some form of normalcy, and a positive return to basketball if and when he feels up to it. It may have taken a few years, but he seems back on the right path.