Andre Dawkins Prepares to Leap Forward After Tragic Freshman Year
Their meaning packs even more of a punch. On his left wrist is "12-5-09.'' On his right: "Lacey.''
Dawkins, who turned 19 on Sunday, got those tattoos this past summer, an everlasting reminder of the defining occurrence of his freshman year at Duke. In March, he hit a pair of crucial three-pointers in the Blue Devils' regional final victory over Baylor, leading to the program's fourth national championship the first week of April. However, not even that could overshadow what happened last December 5: his 21-year-old sister, Lacey, was killed in a car accident on her way from her Ohio home to see him play a game in Durham.
Dawkins does not speak loudly, but he is not shy about talking, and amidst the grief of that season, he never resisted expressing himself to either his teammates or the public. Sitting in an office in Cameron Indoor Stadium after a workout last week, he said that talking about his sister's death helps him move forward. "I really miss my sister. I love her and I think about her every day,'' he said, "but there's nothing I can do to bring her back.''
The small tattoos on his wrists are more of a memorial to himself than to others. "Putting it there, I'm pretty much the only one to see it,'' he said, adding -- and pointing at his upper body, prime inking territory for many -- "I didn't want a great big thing. I didn't want a whole lot of attention to it. I just wanted it to be something for me, that I'd see.''
It's likely not even his teammates and coaches would notice. But they had intimate knowledge of his struggles to deal with the fatal crash -- and Dawkins said that saved him frequently during the season.
"I don't think I would've gotten through my freshman year as well as I did if it wasn't for the help of my coaches,'' he said. "When I went through the whole thing, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), Coach Wojo (Steve Wojciechowski) and Coach (Nate) James all came to my sister's funeral. They were very supportive; they told me (to) take my time coming back, things like that.
"As much as they're coaches, they're also father figures as well. Being away from home, I know I can always count on them to be there for me.''
With the start of preseason practice near, it appears that Dawkins will be there for Duke as well. By all accounts he has had a strong summer of workouts; he said he is better off now than as a freshman "physically and mentally.'' He will have to be, since his averages of 4.4 points on 39.7 percent shooting in 12.6 minutes a game only skimmed the surface of his potential and expected impact. The competition for playing time at guard will be intense: he and Nolan Smith return, and coming in are elite recruits Kyrie Irving and Tyler Thornton, plus Seth Curry, now eligible after transferring.
But Dawkins believes his place (if not necessarily his minutes) in the program is secure because of how he was embraced after the shock of his sister's death. It was what he had anticipated when he picked Duke (he even enrolled a year early); he just could never have imagined in his worst nightmares that the recruiting promises of being a family rather than just a team would be tested the way it was.
"When I got the news, it was right after a meeting,'' Dawkins recalled of the accident the same day the Devils played St. John's, "and they were right there with me, crying with me. That's because they really did care -- I knew that they did before, but that showed me 10 times as much, and I really appreciated that.''
On the court, Dawkins' season was problematic, as his playing time fluctuated wildly, especially when the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule kicked in. He had six double-figure scoring games before the New Year and none after; he routinely failed to reach double figures in minutes from then on.
Yet against Baylor, when the Bears were outrunning them at every chance, perplexing the Duke offense with its zone (eventual tournament most outstanding player Kyle Singler went 0-for-10 from the floor) and threatening to wrest momentum for good, his burying the only two shots he took in his 13 minutes did as much to save the day as anything else another Blue Devil player did. Afterward, Dawkins said, Wojciechowski singled him out for praise personally, to the team and to the media and said that Duke might be headed home if not for him.
Through all the ups and downs, Dawkins never considered either staying away from the team for good or transferring closer to his Chesapeake, Va., home to be near his parents and three younger siblings.
"I would never do that,'' he said. "Even when things were going bad, I felt, 'I'm not gonna quit.' I'd be quitting on my coaches and my teammates. They're like my brothers. So I felt like they're too close to me for me to give up on them or walk away from them. I love them with all my heart.''
As much as he meant that, though, Dawkins reserved space on his flesh for only one person.
"It's just to remind myself every day of her,'' he said, "just to remember her.''