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Dawkins matures as a junior

On Jun. 24, 2009, Duke shooting guard Elliot Williams announced that he would transfer to Memphis for family reasons. The move left Duke with just two players under 6-foot-8 heading into the 2009-10 season.

At the time, Andre Dawkins was a junior at Atlantic Shores Christian School in Virginia Beach, Va., who had committed to join the Blue Devils after his expected graduation in 2010. But three weeks after Williams’ announcement, Dawkins decided to accelerate his matriculation in order to join the Blue Devils a year early to help fortify the Duke backcourt.

Eligible to graduate early after transferring high schools, his choice left him as the youngest player in Duke’s three-man recruiting class in 2009. Dawkins is more than a year younger than Mason Plumlee, while fellow classmate Ryan Kelly is five months older than Dawkins. Although Dawkins said that age has not played a factor in his development at Duke, he acknowledged that he had to mature since he began his college career.

“Freshman year I was really young and kind of naive and brought the same approach that I brought in high school, just show up and play basketball,” Dawkins said. “Now I’m a lot more focused, paying a lot more attention in scouting.”

Further inspiration for Dawkins’ improved preparation came from another Chesapeake-area product, Nolan Smith, who was the Blue Devils’ elder statesman as Dawkins entered his second season in Durham.

“My freshman year, on game days, I would just kind of show up when I was supposed to show up and warm up and play the game,” Dawkins said. “But sophomore year, I noticed what Nolan did, coming out two hours before the game and getting shots up to get himself in a good rhythm for the game, and I started doing that.”

Now Dawkins can regularly be seen as one of the first Blue Devils on the floor before a game.

But Dawkins has had to supplement his on-court improvements with off-the-court adjustments in order to maximize the potential that made him a top-20 recruit coming out of high school.

“Freshman year was a little bit of a shock, with so much freedom,” Dawkins said. “You can do whatever you want, get up, walk out of the dorm. You don’t have to ask anybody or tell them when you’re coming back or be in at a certain time, and I think I may have taken advantage of that a little bit too much.... I get more sleep now. I feel like an old person.”

These changes in mental approach have helped Dawkins raise his scoring average from 4.4 points per game as a freshman to 9.3 this season, but his primary contribution still comes from spot-up long-range shooting. He has taken just 46 free throws in nearly 700 minutes of play this season, and he has made more 3-pointers than 2-pointers and free throws combined.

Such reliance on jump shooting has caused Dawkins to be plagued by consistency issues throughout his career. In 30 games this season, he has scored in double digits 13 times and broken the 20-point barrier on three occasions, but has also been held to three points or fewer eight times.

Since pure shooters like Dawkins can be notoriously streaky, he said that a shift in mindset has helped him to better deal with those issues by focusing on all aspects of play, not just scoring.

“I think I’m just more locked in on playing basketball, instead of always worrying about the shots that I’m getting,” he said. “And when you do that, shots come, and you don’t even notice, and then you look up and you’ve got X amount of points on the board.”

Although his athletic 6-foot-4 frame lends itself to quality defending, he admitted that his defensive performances have been affected by what happens on the offensive end.

“When you’re always focused on one thing, and then sometimes that one thing doesn’t come through for you, I’d kind of get out of the game, get disconnected,” he said. “I’d kind of get inward and then I’m not worried about what anybody else is doing.”

Because head coach Mike Krzyzewski places such an emphasis on defensive consistency and Dawkins’ defensive effort has fallen when his shots do not, the guard has experienced significant fluctuations in playing time­. He started the first eight games, but came off the bench from the beginning of December until mid-January. A 24-point outburst against Clemson earned him a place in the lineup once again, but after 36 points in his ensuing two starts, he scored five points or fewer in three of his next four games, forcing him back into a bench role.

But recently, teammates and coaches have praised the results of his increased focus in all phases of the game.

“His defensive effort has just gone through the roof, and he’s making a difference on that end of the floor,” Kelly said. “And with his athleticism, when he does that, he becomes a really good player regardless of whether he’s making shots or not.”

Dawkins is now coming to understand that he can contribute without filling up the stat sheet. He focuses on the fact that his shooting ability from the outside helps open up lanes for drivers and opportunities in the post, and he has brought his team together with his tenacious attitude at times, especially in a Feb. 2 contest against Virginia Tech where he stepped in to defend a teammate from a jawing Dorenzo Hudson. He only scored five points in that game, though.

“[That] night, I only had five, but I wouldn’t characterize that as a bad game,” he said. “Some games you’re going to get open looks, some games you’re not, but you can’t let that affect you on the other end of the court.”

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