UCF coach now must try to de­con­struct Duke dy­nasty he helped build

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - Mike Bianchi Email me at [email protected] or­lan­dosen­tinel.com. Hit me up on Twit­ter @BianchiWrites and lis­ten to my Open Mike ra­dio show ev­ery week­day from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — If you had to choose the two most most im­por­tant fig­ures re­spon­si­ble for build­ing the Duke Blue Devils into the most dom­i­nant, dy­namic, dy­nas­tic pro­gram in the mod­ern era of col­lege bas­ket­ball, who would they be?

One of them, of course, would be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

But the other would have to be UCF coach Johnny Dawkins.

“Johnny meant ev­ery­thing,” Krzyzewski said as he pre­pared for his coach­ing matchup Sun­day against Dawkins, his former star player and long-time as­sis­tant coach. “He was the first great player that be­lieved in us. He started it all.”

Which is why both Krzyzewski and Dawkins have dreaded this po­ten­tial sec­ond-round NCAA Tour­na­ment matchup ever since the bracket was re­leased last Sun­day. Coach K tra­di­tion­ally re­fuses to sched­ule reg­u­lar-sea­son games against teams coached by his former play­ers be­cause of the emo­tional toll they take.

“Why would you want to?” he asked. “They’re fam­ily.”

Mean­while, Dawkins calls it a “no-win sit­u­a­tion when you’re play­ing your friend, your men­tor and an alma mater that has meant so much to you.”

Even so, this is a once-in-al­ife­time op­por­tu­nity for the Knights. From a brand­ing and ex­po­sure stand­point, there’s no ques­tion Sun­day will be the most im­por­tant game not only in Dawkins’ coach­ing ten­ure but in the his­tory of UCF’s pro­gram. This is sort of like what it would have meant if UCF’s foot­ball team had ac­tu­ally been given the chance to face Nick Sa­ban’s Alabama Crim­son Tide in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off.

“It’s great to com­pete in a tour­na­ment where the na­tional cham­pion is ac­tu­ally de­ter­mined on the court,” cracked UCF ath­let­ics direc­tor Danny White, per­haps the most vo­cal of all Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off crit­ics. “… This is a pro­gram-build­ing mo­ment.”

Duke, the dy­nasty that has won five na­tional cham­pi­onships and gone to 12 Fi­nal Fours un­der the leg­endary Coach K, is the No. 1 over­all seed in the tour­na­ment. The Knights have a to­tal of one NCAA Tour­na­ment vic­tory in their his­tory, and that came Fri­day night against VCU.

This game is loaded with in­trigu­ing story lines, in­clud­ing a fam­ily ri­valry among the school’s two ath­let­ics di­rec­tors — UCF’s White and his fa­ther, Kevin White, at Duke. It’ll be the ul­ti­mate up­start in UCF against the ul­ti­mate cham­pion in Duke. It’ll be the tallest player in col­lege bas­ket­ball (UCF’s 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall) against the big­gest star in col­lege bas­ket­ball (Duke cen­ter Zion Wil­liamson).

“I won’t al­low him putting me on one of his high­light tapes,” Tacko said of Wil­liamson’s pen­chant for em­bar­rass­ing op­pos­ing cen­ters with pow­er­ful, per­sua­sive, pos­ter­iz­ing dunks.

But the most cap­ti­vat­ing story line of all is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Duke and Dawkins, who 37 years ago signed with the Blue Devils and per­haps even saved Krzyzewski’s job. With­out Dawkins, an ar­gu­ment could be made that Duke bas­ket­ball as we know it might not ex­ist at all.

Krzyzewski was a strug­gling young coach who had a 38-47 record dur­ing his first three sea­sons at Duke. Many Duke fans and boost­ers wanted Coach K fired, but former ath­let­ics direc­tor UCF coach Johnny Dawkins talks with guard B.J. Tay­lor, left, guard Ter­rell Allen (2) and guard Aubrey Dawkins, right. Dawkins will be lead­ing the Knights against his alma mater Duke and men­tor Mike Krzyzewski.

Tom But­ters re­fused to bow to the pres­sure.

“I never paid at­ten­tion to the wishes and whims of the fans,” the late, great But­ters told me once af­ter he re­tired and moved to a golf com­mu­nity in Cen­tral Florida. “You have to make de­ci­sions based on what you feel is right. In to­day’s world, I’d prob­a­bly be fired for re­fus­ing to fire the coach, but you have to give a coach time to im­ple­ment his sys­tem and re­cruit his play­ers.”

Es­pe­cially when one of those play­ers was Dawkins, a tran­scen­dent high school ta­lent from Mack­lin Catholic High School in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

You see, Johnny Dawkins was Zion be­fore Zion. A 6-foot-2 shoot­ing guard, Dawkins led the

Blue Devils out of the wilder­ness, el­e­vat­ing them from 11-17 in his fresh­man sea­son in 1982-83 to 37-3 and the na­tional-ti­tle game dur­ing his se­nior sea­son.

Dawkins fin­ished his fi­nal year at Duke av­er­ag­ing 20.2 points per game and won the Nai­smith Col­lege Player of the Year Award.

“Mike signed some other big­name play­ers [guys like Mark Alarie and Jay Bi­las], but Johnny was the first trans­for­ma­tional player,” said Mike DeCourcy, the renowned col­lege bas­ket­ball writer for The Sport­ing News. “Johnny’s the guy who launched the ship. He was an elite ta­lent who could have gone any­where. He chose Duke even though the pro­gram was strug­gling. If he doesn’t go to Duke, it’s a fair ques­tion to ask whether the pro­gram would have be­come what it has be­come.”

When I asked Coach K on Sat­ur­day about the re­cruit­ment of Dawkins, he re­called the sum­mer day in the early 1980s when he went and watched Dawkins in a sum­mer-league tour­na­ment game in D.C. An AAU coach who was at the same tour­na­ment con­vinced Krzyzewski to stay for the sec­ond game to watch Tommy Amaker, an­other McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­can who would fol­low Dawkins to Duke a year later and is now Har­vard’s coach.

“It was amaz­ing that on that one day, I saw my [fu­ture] back­court — one of the great­est back­courts in the his­tory of the game,” Coach K said, smil­ing. “The bas­ket­ball gods were good to me that day.”

But on this day — this sur­real Sun­day — 37 years later, the bas­ket­ball gods have de­vel­oped a warped sense of hu­mor.

Former St. John’s coach and cur­rent ESPN an­a­lyst Fran Fraschilla put it best in this tweet:

“In the minds of Jay Bi­las, Tommy Amaker and Coach K him­self, there might not be a Duke dy­nasty with­out the com­mit­ment of Johnny Dawkins to the Blue Devils in 1982. The hoops world will come full cir­cle on Sun­day.”

Duke vs. UCF.

Zion vs. Tacko.

Danny White vs. Kevin White. But, mostly, Johnny Dawkins then vs. Johnny Dawkins now.

UCF’s head coach now must try to take down the Duke dy­nasty he helped create.

MICHAEL WYKE/AP

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