In his sixth season with the program, Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins is trying to position his team to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. Saturday’s 83-74 victory over No. 23 UCLA certainly boosted the Cardinal’s chances. Dawkins’ squad has won five of its past six games as it prepares for its final conference games (at Arizona State, at Arizona, vs. Colorado, vs. Utah). Dawkins, a member of Mike Krzyzewksi’s coaching tree, says he ignores the outside chatter about the significance of a tourney bid for himself and his program.
How important was Saturday’s win?
Dawkins: Well, it was probably -- at this time of the year, having an opportunity to play a ranked opponent on a home court -- I think it was one of our signature wins this year. I think we’ve had a few of those this year. We’ve won at UConn when they were undefeated. We had a win at Oregon. ... I think we’ve beaten three [teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at the time] this season.
Some squads around the country are losing momentum right now. Your team is going the other way. What has been the key to finishing strong?
Dawkins: Well, our guys are excited. We have guys on our team that are seniors that want to leave their legacy on our program. They see it as an opportunity and we’re right in the middle of everything. We still have everything in front of us that we want to play for. The conference is still not decided. The champion is not decided. We still have the conference tournament. So, with everything to look forward to, it’s an exciting time to be playing. …. It shows the type of environment we have. Our kids are still anxious and realize they’re still playing for things.
How much easier is the final stretch when you have veterans?
Dawkins: I think it’s huge. Any time you can have some older players who’ve been through it and they want to accomplish something, it can be something that can really help prepare your team to have a really great season. And our guys have stepped up, like Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis. Those guys have really given us a big lift this year in leadership.
How important is an NCAA tourney bid, not just for the program, but for your tenure?
Dawkins: I don’t look at it this way. I look at it as it’s important for our group to make the tournament because these guys are seniors. They’ve been through a lot. We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs the last few years, injuries and so forth, that have set us back and I’m glad to see the resiliency that we’ve showed. Our kids have fought through all of that. They’ve never made excuses. We’ve never made excuses. We have an opportunity now to continue to strive toward our goals.
In the social media age, how difficult is it to stay away from the pressure when people outside the program are talking about how important a bid is for your program and for yourself?
Dawkins: For me, it’s easy. I don’t follow it all. Even back during my playing days in college, I never read articles, pro or con, with regards to our program or myself. I’m oblivious to all of that. I think that’s a good way to live. There’s so much information floating out there. Who really knows what’s going on? Who really has the answers? Who are the decision-makers? None of that is taken into account. It’s just people assuming and saying things. I don’t get into that. And I try to discourage my players from doing it as much as possible because it can have them focus on things that are inconsequential to what we have to do as a team. During the season, I try to have them understand -- ‘Stay focused on us; don’t focus on anything else’ -- because it can pull a team apart, which is the saddest thing. And it can also, for individual players if you’re not strong-minded, it can kind of get you if you’re disagreeing with things that you’re reading.
What were the benefits of working with Coach K?
Dawkins: I worked for him for 11 seasons. I think he instills a certain passion and desire you have to have to be successful in this profession. Of course, his preparation is second to none and the things that are required to be good, you learn all of that from working under him. And the biggest thing is you learn what this profession is really about. It’s about the young people that we coach. You want to give of yourself to the program. You want to give of yourself to your kids.