Dawkins Reflects On A Gold Medal Experience In Beijing

Sept. 10, 2008

  • Stanford At The 2008 Olympics

    STANFORD, Calif.- Upon his arrival back to campus, www.gostanford.com caught up with first-year men's basketball head coach Johnny Dawkins to discuss his experience serving on the staff of the gold medal-winning USA Basketball squad at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

    Dawkins, who was announced as the 17th head coach in the history of the Cardinal men's basketball program back on Apr. 28, recently completed a three-year commitment with the USA Basketball Senior National team, serving as the program's Player Personnel Director from 2006-08.

    With the help of Dawkins and the rest of the USA Basketball coaching staff, Team USA claimed its first gold medal since 2000 with a 118-107 victory over Spain. The Americans were dominant throughout the entire competition, posting an 8-0 mark and winning by an average of 27.9 points per game.

    Back on The Farm, Dawkins offered reflection on his time in Beijing.

    GS (www.gostanford.com): Congratulations and welcome back!
    JD (Johnny Dawkins): 'It was just a tremendous experience. Watching a lot of these players grow during their time with USA Basketball, it has been very rewarding and that much more worthwhile for me. As a coach, working with USA Basketball is the ultimate honor in this profession. It's bigger than coaching an NBA championship or an NCAA championship. Winning the gold is the biggest thing we can do in our sport, and being a part of that is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.'

    GS: What were some of your duties as a member of the staff?
    JD: 'I was fully engaged in all operations. Coach Krzyzewski had me participate in all staff meetings and I was on the floor working out guys. I would work out before and after practice individually with the guys and then also in groups. I was also involved in scouting and all the things that go along with preparing for a basketball game. Actually, my duties as a member of this staff were very similar to most of my responsibilities while an assistant coach at Duke.'

    GS: What was the biggest difference between American and international basketball?
    JD: 'The thing I have learned to appreciate is how well they move the basketball and how well they play together. It's become beautiful for me to see how well they have advanced the game in that regard. Here, we typically play an exciting brand of ball, but it's predicated on one-on-one and beating your guy. Their brand of basketball is a collective effort to score the bucket so the styles really are uniquely different. International basketball is something that I have developed an appreciation for, especially having been involved with USA Basketball for the past three years and seeing how effective it can be And how fun it would be to play in that kind of system.'

    GS: Obviously, Spain proved to be a challenging opponent. Any other teams that you came away impressed with?
    JD: 'Of course, Spain is a terrific team. And definitely Argentina- they are a special team. Spain and Argentina were two teams that played contrasting styles. Spain typically plays almost like a very good, ball-moving NBA team, where they want to play inside-out. Compare that with Argentina, which is so strong on the perimeter with Manu Ginobili. So they play more of a perimeter passing game where the ball is constantly moving, there is a lot of cutting and the ball is very rarely put on the floor except to initiate the offense.'

    GS: One of the biggest storylines throughout the competition was how Team USA wanted to rebound from its previous international competitions and reclaim the gold medal. Just how important was this for the squad?
    JD: 'They all bought in right away to what we wanted to accomplish. They knew that there would be no excuses based on our personnel not to be successful. All they had to do was play together, play hard and play to win- and they did that. One of the most important things I think that made us so successful was what happened to us in 2006- we lost. So here we lost in 2004 at the Olympics in Athens, then turn around and take home the bronze medal in 2006 at the FIBA World Championship. So if we had won that, I'm not so sure we would have been as prepared or hungry for the 2008 Olympics. I think losing there actually helped us win the gold in Beijing- that is how I will always remember it. When we faced Greece in 2006, they got hot, started on a roll, had momentum and we could never overcome it. This time around, when Spain answered back and made a run to cut it to two, we responded. And I think that was a direct result of us having gone through that experience and realizing that there was only one alternative: to win. And our guys found that way.'

    GS: How much did this experience help you personally and professionally as a coach?
    JD: 'You will hear me say this a million times: I have had the great fortune in my career of being around a lot of terrific coaches. Working with Coach Krzyzewski, Coach D'Antoni, Coach Boeheim and Coach McMillan- all with different philosophies and great basketball minds- that only helped me broaden who I was and helped continue to educate me. You are never too old to get better and learn in this game. I am always looking for ways to get better and I was basically able to earn a `coaching Ph.D.' in the level that I was at this summer and really the last two summers working with USA Basketball.'

    GS: Was the coaching staff awarded gold medals as well?
    JD: 'No gold medals; instead we will probably get replicas and rings or something of that nature. Only the players receive the medals, are recognized on the medal stand, etc. For me, it really was not about that though. It was about representing my country and being a part of something very unique that not many people get to experience.'

    GS: Team USA collected a gold medal on the women's side as well and it seemed like the men's and women's team both supported each other at their respective events.
    JD: 'I did get a chance to say hello to Gail Goestenkors (USA Women's Basketball assistant coach and former Duke women's basketball head coach) and Heidi VanDerveer (sister of current Stanford women's basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer). We were all in the same hotel (with lots of security) so we would bump into each other and catch up. And our guys watched a lot of their games as well and vice versa. The support was genuine. The guys also spent a lot of time in the Olympic Village, especially before we started playing. They would go down there every day and also attend a lot of other sporting events and tour historic sites. And they should have done that. It's part of the Olympic experience and I just love the fact that they understood this was part of something bigger than they were.'

    GS:Thanks Coach and good luck this year.
    JD: 'Thank you.'

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