Dawkins debuts at Stanford; notes from the nation

November, 17, 2008
11/17/08
12:36
PM ET
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Stanford had withstood a surge from Yale, building a 12-point lead with just more than three minutes remaining Friday when the Bulldogs -- not the Cardinal -- dived to the floor to recover a loose ball and called a timeout.

When the Cardinal convened around first-year coach Johnny Dawkins, they heard, for the first time, his inner Krzyzewski.

"That's bull----,'' Dawkins barked into the grills of his players.

Throughout Dawkins' first game as a head coach, he was as calm, cool and collected as he was for the past 10 years on the Duke bench.

He stood up the entire game, keeping a rolled up piece of paper with him, listening intently to his three assistants -- former head coaches Dick Davey (Santa Clara); Rodney Tention (Loyola Marymount); and a familiar voice in Mike Schrage, the former Duke director of basketball operations.

"He was very calm, very relaxed,'' Davey said of Dawkins. "He handled it like a veteran. He's had a great tutor.''

Hall of Fame and Olympic gold-medal-winning coach Mike Krzyzewski was the heavy for Duke when Dawkins was a player and an assistant. Krzyzewski doesn't hide the need to motivate his players in a huddle or let them know his disgust when they aren't hustling.

"That [loose ball] was a mistake of omission, and so I had to let them know it and see my passion because we haven't done that all preseason,'' Dawkins said. "That was probably the first time I've been the heavy. I said a few things in the locker room at halftime [when Stanford held a slim 30-29 lead].''

Former Stanford coach Trent Johnson set up this series with Yale: The Bulldogs played in Palo Alto last season, the Cardinal went to New Haven this season, and, after a year off, Yale goes back to Stanford in 2010.

Opening in the sweat-box John J. Lee Amphitheater with fans hanging over the railings couldn't be further from Duke. There was no television for the game. Nada. Duke doesn't open on the road, let alone at an Ivy. Duke also doesn't do commercial flights. Schrage, who arrived at Duke in 1999, said he was making his first commercial flight to coach in a basketball game. (Yes, Duke even took a charter to Maui, according to Schrage.)

"I love this, going on the road, whether it's [for] 2,000 or 20,000 [fans],'' said Davey, who was more used to this type of environment at Santa Clara.

Yet, despite the lack of amenities, this was supposed to be perfect for Dawkins. The Cardinal were expected to win this game. But they were playing their first regular-season game without the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, who are in the NBA after leading Stanford to the Sweet 16 last season. Yale -- which clearly could challenge Cornell for the Ivy League title, with the quick Porter Braswell at the point, a shooter in Alex Zampier, some size upfront in Ross Morin and a swing man in Travis Pinick -- was amped for this game. The Bulldogs hung with Stanford early and often as the Cardinal turned the ball over 10 times in the first half.

Dawkins had to calm the team down on many occasions. He counseled senior point guard Mitch Johnson. He encouraged guard Anthony Goods (who did bury four deep 3s, well beyond the new 20-feet, 9-inch line). He helped foster confidence with Josh Owens and Landry Fields, a pair of undersized forwards who can get to the glass but seemed better in the open court than halfcourt offense. And he relied at times on senior forward Lawrence Hill (22 points and 11 boards) to bail out the struggling Cardinal.

"One thing he's very good at is letting you know when you need to get better,'' Johnson said. "He never wavers in his confidence, and that goes vice versa [with the players and him].''

Johnson said Dawkins had to remind the players that the Lopez twins weren't going to be walking back into the gym when the Cardinal allowed too many uncontested drives to the hoop.

"I've had to say that to them every so often,'' Dawkins said.

When the game was over, in the hallways of the ancient-looking building at a similarly academically rich school, Dawkins reflected on his first win as a head coach.

"You couldn't ask for a better environment to find out who we are,'' Dawkins said. "I'm glad we got this out early. I loved it. I really enjoyed it here.''

Dawkins said watching Duke play Presbyterian on ESPNU on Nov. 10 was the first time he felt "weird" not being on Duke's bench.

"That knocked me back a bit, that's when reality set in and I said, 'Wow, I'm not there,'" Dawkins said.

Despite the assumption that he would never leave the comfortable second seat at Duke, Dawkins is off on his own, forging his way toward finding his footing as a head coach. When the game was over, Tention was the first to congratulate him.

"He's got the kids believing in him,'' Tention said. "I just told him, 'This is the first of many.' They're going to be hard, but nothing will be like this one. He'll never forget the first one.''

Nuggets from the weekend

(The Weekly Watch will debut Monday, Nov. 24, and will report on games from Sunday, Nov. 16, to Saturday, Nov. 22.)

• Southwest Baptist 80, Utah 79. Let that one sink in for a bit. The Division II school from Missouri hit 16 3s to beat the Utes in Salt Lake City. Over the summer, the Utes' public relations machine had wanted to make sure that everyone in the country knew Utah was going to play its best schedule, with games against Oregon, Cal and Gonzaga and at Oklahoma.

• Drake's dream season must seem like five years ago instead of concluding just seven months ago. Drake lost its home opener to a rebuilding Butler team Saturday night and scored only 48 points. (Butler had 58.) Former Drake coach Keno Davis lost his opener at home as the Providence coach to Northeastern, 70-66. Northeastern coach Bill Coen needed a signature nonconference win as he makes a realistic attempt to win the CAA.

• Something is wrong with this scene. Three Pac-10 teams opened on the road this past weekend. All of them were against schools below their level. Look at the results -- Stanford squeaks out a win at Yale, Oregon State loses at Howard, and Washington drops a game at Portland despite 30 points and 14 boards from potential Pac-10 player of the year Jon Brockman. Simple rule: Pac-10 schools should be strong enough to open on the road only at comparable-level schools.

• Maybe the NCAA should just cut Mississippi Valley State a check instead of watching this march to misery. The Delta Devils lost the opener at Arizona State 80-64 Friday night and then flew the next morning to Washington State to play the Cougars on Saturday night. The Delta Devils, down 28-0 to start the game, lost 76-25 to the Cougars. Next up is No. 14 Oklahoma in the NIT Season Tip-Off on Monday night and then either Davidson or James Madison on Tuesday. It doesn't stop. The Delta Devils turn around from Norman to go to Montana for a game against the Grizzlies on Thursday. Mississippi Valley State plays six more road games after the Montana game. The first home game is Dec. 20 against Chattanooga.

• LSU beat Jackson State by 14, but the more significant note is that the leading scorer, point guard Bo Spencer, was the biggest question mark. He put up 21 points and made 3 of 5 3s but didn't have an assist and had three turnovers.

• Freshmen debut: Tyreke Evans scored 19 in Memphis' win over Fairfield, Demar DeRozan put up 14 in USC's defeat of UC Irvine, and Tyler Zeller scored 18 for North Carolina in its win over Penn. On Friday, Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu put up a game-high 21 and had 10 boards in the Demon Deacons' win over North Carolina Central.

• Best comeback of the weekend was by UW-Milwaukee, which was down 24 (51-27) to UC Davis at the half and won, 81-75.

• New Rice coach Ben Braun lost his opener to Portland State, 78-74; new Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who took Braun's place, won his opener by beating Pacific, 68-56.

• New Orleans couldn't go for the sweep. The Privateers opened Lakefront Arena for the first time since Hurricane Katrina three years ago with a 65-59 loss to NC State after beating the Wolfpack last season in Raleigh. But keep watching UNO guard Darrian McKinstry. He scored 17 in the loss and has the potential to be a big-time scorer like Bo McCalebb for the Privateers. The good news for the Wolfpack is that without J.J. Hickson, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley were back to being the focus, and they produced with 19 and 17 points, respectively.

• Two notable performances from Saturday: Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado, who had 11 boards and seven blocks in the Bulldogs' 77-55 win over Centenary, and Temple's Dionte Christmas, who scored 26 points, made all nine free-throw attempts and had seven boards as the Owls beat the College of Charleston.

• The best performances of the weekend, though, could go to one of three players: BYU's Lee Cummard scored 36 points, grabbed 11 boards, had four assists and four blocks in a win over Long Beach State; Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet scored 23 points, had 17 boards and blocked five shots in the win over Western Carolina; and Oklahoma's Blake Griffin grabbed 18 boards and scored 24 points in the Sooners' win over American.

• Former Miami guard Denis Clemente scored 19 in his debut for Kansas State in its win over Florida A&M.

• Could be a long year at Arkansas if the opener is any indication. Arkansas had to go to OT to beat Southeast Louisiana. Fordham could be logging sleepless nights, too, as the Rams lost to Columbia at home.

• Levance Fields' foot is fine, as he had 15 points, eight assists and no turnovers in Pitt's win over Fairleigh Dickinson.

• VMI 111, Kentucky 103. Hey, at least Jodie Meeks is healthy. He scored 39 for the Cats. Can't dismiss VMI's Travis Holmes, either; he had 30.

• Arizona's players admitted to the Arizona Daily Star that they were interviewed for an investigation into any impermissible benefits while participating in the Cactus Classic, an AAU tournament on Arizona's campus in May. The players in question, up to six underclassmen, had discussions about paying as much as $60 in restitution. Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell told the paper that he didn't anticipate that any of the players would miss Monday's opener against Florida Atlantic. A source close to the situation said Pennell did have concerns about this last week when he spoke with Cactus Classic organizer Jim Storey. On Sunday, Arizona spokesman Richard Paige said, "I can't comment on an ongoing NCAA investigation, but I am aware of no information that would lead me to believe that any of our players would not play on Monday." This investigation stems from a letter that was sent from the basketball office with former coach Lute Olson's signature, imploring boosters to support the Cactus Classic financially, which is a violation. Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the investigation is far from over.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN.com Senior Writer

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