How is Stanford Coach Johnny Dawkins Recruiting So Well?Posted by Chris Johnson on November 21st, 2013
Recruiting well while you’re on the hot seat shouldn’t be as easy as Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins is making it look. On Wednesday, the Cardinal got a verbal commitment from Dorian Pickens, a 6’5″ shooting guard with scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State and several other power conference schools. Pickens is the fourth top-100 player in the class of 2014 to commit to the Cardinal since early September, joining four-star point guard Robert Cartwright and four-star power forwards Michael Humphrey and Reid Travis. The most impressive name in that group is Travis, who spurned offers from Arizona, Duke, Georgetown, UCLA and others before pledging to the Cardinal. Stanford’s 2014 recruiting class now ranks 14th in the country, according to Scout.com. With four good players arriving next year, the Cardinal will be well-equipped to restock its lineup with talent and athleticism and remain competitive in the Pac-12 after veterans such as junior Chasson Randle and seniors Josh Huestis, Dwight Powell and Aaron Bright graduate.
The most interesting part about this recruiting surge is that Dawkins, now in his sixth season in Palo Alto, might not even be around campus at this time next year. In March, first-year athletic director Bernard Muir essentially said Dawkins needed to lead his team to the NCAA Tournament this season in order to keep his job. “There’s a clear expectation that we can do that here,” Muir said. So if the Cardinal doesn’t end the school’s five-year NCAA Tournament drought in March, those recruits that gave their verbal commitments to Dawkins could wind up playing for a different coach. Why, then, would these talented high schoolers – players that had good scholarship offers from other schools – pick Stanford? Maybe they’re confident Stanford will reach the NCAA Tournament this season, that Dawkins has Cardinal basketball on the cusp of a breakthrough, that Stanford hoops is just an evolutionary step or two behind Stanford football. Or maybe they don’t care whether Dawkins is their coach, as long as they get to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the country, located on one of the most beautiful campuses in the country.
The second possibility seems more convincing to me. Muir was clear: If Dawkins doesn’t get Stanford to the NCAA Tournament this season, he’s probably gone. That’d be a big letdown for Dawkins – to have recruited all those talented players, then have to watch them play for a different coach. He can avoid that scenario, of course, by ending the longest Tournament drought Stanford has endured since 1989. In five-plus seasons in Palo Alto, Dawkins’ Cardinal teams have amassed a 96-73 record, including a 39-51 mark in Pac-12 play. The closest Stanford has come to making the Big Dance under Dawkins was in 2011-12, when the Cardinal went 26-12 and finished seventh in the Pac-12. Last season, Dawkins led Stanford to just nine conference wins, 19 wins overall and joined a short list (Leonard Hamilton at Florida State, Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss, since-fired Bill Carmody at Northwestern) of active coaches from power conferences who didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament in their first five seasons on the job. Both Kennedy and Hamilton earned contract extensions over the past year, while Dawkins had his deal extended in 2011 and is reportedly signed through the 2015-16 season (Though San Jose Mercury News writer Jon Wilner speculates that Stanford, a private university not required to disclose financial terms, might have the option to cut Dawkins loose after this season).
Somehow, amid all the contractual uncertainty, Dawkins has managed to convince four highly talented high school players – and more impressively, the parents of four highly talented high school players – that Stanford is their best option. You’d think coaching stability would be near at the top of the list of things most top recruits are looking for in their school of choice. Washington State doesn’t have it, and look what’s happened to Ken Bone’s latest recruiting class. I’m no four-star basketball prospect, but if I were, and I had a spate of scholarship offers to choose from, the distinct possibility that one of them might be on the verge of making a coaching change – where a new coach who didn’t recruit me, and may not have even wanted to recruit me in the first place, will step in – would be a disqualifier. That narrow analysis ignores the broader appeal of attending Stanford, which is handily summed up by this list of people. Football and basketball players who pick Stanford do so for reasons that go beyond the mere prospect of athletic accomplishment. Which isn’t to say prospects completely disregard academics when choosing to play at other schools, just that players recruited to Stanford must be willing to meet and maintain an academic standard that’s more rigorous than those demanded by every other school outside of the Ivy League.
That could explain why these four players, despite Dawkins’ shaky job security, feel comfortable that Stanford is the right place for them. Or maybe it’s something else. I’m spit-balling here. It’s puzzling that Dawkins has been able to assemble such an impressive recruiting class. The pressure he’s under to win, and win now, should hinder, not bolster, his recruiting efforts.