When UCF basketball coach Johnny Dawkins was a player at Duke during the mid-1980s, the Blue Devils spent their summers away from campus. Many of the players took summer jobs or returned home to spend time with their families.
Few, if any, remained on campus.
After moving into coaching, Dawkins can’t remember the last time he spent a summer away from his players.
The last time Dawkins saw his players was right after the Knights returned home in March following the cancellation of the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since then, Dawkins and his players have isolated in their homes, relying on conference calls, videoconferences and text messages to communicate.
It’s unclear when UCF players will return to campus for voluntary workouts, but Dawkins expects some answers sooner rather than later.
“Everyone is dying to get back to some sense of normalcy,” Dawkins said.
Dawkins spoke to the Orlando Sentinel about a variety of topics. Here are highlights of the conversation:
OS: You added a few high-profile transfers to the roster this summer — senior guard Darius Perry (Louisville) and sophomore forward C.J. Walker (Oregon). What do they bring to the team?
Dawkins: “They both come from winning cultures. They’ve been very successful, and we’ve been very successful. I think they fit right in with our culture. On the defensive end, they both bring high energy, the ability to guard multiple positions. I think offensively, Darius can really shoot the basketball, which brings another perimeter guy that can knock down shots behind the arc. He plays with a lot of passion and desire, which I like especially at the point guard spot. I think C.J. brings a lot of versatility on the perimeter offensively as well. He can score around the basket, he can score outside, he can take you off the bounce so he’s a very versatile player. His ability to understand his strengths is very good. He understands what he does well, and he tries to do it every night. He plays with a high motor.”
OS: What does it say about the program that you were able to land these types of players?
Dawkins: “I think that speaks well for our program and our community. I think our program and Orlando. That combination is very attractive to a lot of young student-athletes. They want to be here. It’s a great city. We have an up-and-coming tradition here with our program. I think they realize they’re catching it at a great time to be a part of it. I’m really happy that a number of players have shown a great interest in us, especially guys of their caliber.”
OS: You also signed a top recruit in freshman Isaiah Adams. What impresses you about the Jacksonville product?
Dawkins: “We play with versatility and he’s another versatile player and that means he can play multiple positions. I love his motor. He plays with high-energy. He plays on both sides of the basketball, he’s not just an offensive player. Defensively, he makes a lot of plays and he rebounds the ball well. The thing that I’ve been very impressed with him as I’ve gotten to know him through the recruiting process and now as he starts to matriculate, is his overall understanding of the game. He takes things in and he’s able to process them and pick them up fast. That’s something that bodes well for any young athlete. He can pick it up and move on to the next thing very fast which is a good thing to have as an athlete.”
OS: How big was it for the program to have redshirt senior forward Collin Smith pull his name out of the NBA draft pool and return for this upcoming season?
Dawkins: “That was big for us because it brings back a guy with experience. He was on a team that made an amazing run, an NCAA Tournament team, and he comes back with a wealth of knowledge and experience because of that so to have him come back when we’re adding pieces is very important because his leadership is going to be needed in the standpoint of the experience that he’s had in our program thus far.”
OS: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?
Dawkins: “We’re going to operate as if the season is going to start on time. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen with what’s going on, of course, but I think that’s the only way you can operate with the information you have. Right now, we’re going to operate as if things are going to go on as usual. We’re going to prepare that way to the best of our ability. I think that’s what all the coaches are having to do. With our players, it’s to keep encouraging them to be safe. Some have access to different things based on where they live and utilize what they have and try to continue to get better but safely. That’s the message we’re putting out to them, that we want them safe and follow the CDC’s guidelines.”
OS: Do you believe there will be a season this fall? There’s been a lot of talk about shifting the entire college basketball season to the spring. Do you think that could work?
Dawkins: “I would like to play our season. First and foremost, I think that’s the right thing for our student-athletes. We just missed the tournament last year and young student-athletes careers were ended abruptly. I think that’s hard. … I hope that we don’t put ourselves in the same position again this year. We’ve had enough time to figure out some plan of action and we still have some time to figure out now.
“If you were to push our season back to January, let’s say right after New Year’s or after Christmas, whichever is the best fit and just play your season out from that point on, I don’t see what would be the issue because all you’re doing is pushing March Madness back maybe to April or May so it becomes May Madness. I still feel people would be excited about it no matter what because sports would be back. It would be something people would be looking forward to and it would bring a lot of excitement to the country again. I don’t see the downside to that IF you couldn’t start on time. I don’t see the downside to having your complete season start then and push everything back accordingly about six-to-eight weeks.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Matt Murschel at email@example.com.
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