It may only be the NIT, but tonight’s championship game against Minnesota in New York could be an important step for Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
In his fourth season at Stanford, the former Duke all-American and longtime first assistant to Mike Krzyzewski appears to be gaining traction.
It’s not been an easy path for the 48-year-old Dawkins.
After his first three teams finished 20-14, 14-18 and 15-16, there was some speculation that the rebuilding task was too much for Dawkins to handle.
Even though Stanford got a four-point win over N.C. State early in the season and gave Syracuse a scare in the preseason NIT title game, the Cardinal could do no better than 10-8 in Pac-12 Conference play.
It wasn’t until March that Dawkins’ generally young team clicked. With six wins in the past seven games, the Cardinal (25-11) could begin next season as the league favorite regardless of what happens tonight in Madison Square Garden against Tubby Smith’s Gophers (23-14).
Four of Dawkins’ starters are either freshmen or sophomores – 6-foot-1 Chasson Randle (14 ppg), 5-11 Aaron Bright (11.6 ppg), 6-6 Anthony Brown (8.8 pgg) and 6-9 Dwight Powell (5.7 ppg).
“Our guys have really worked and stayed with it all season,” Dawkins said after Tuesday’s 74-64 semifinal win over Massachusetts.
“Having gained this experience throughout this tournament, I think will bode well going into the future. I think this will help us understand how to win games in this type of atmosphere, which will make us a better team in the future.”