DURHAM Their friendship started in stereotypically male fashion: playing video games and golf.
Sean Kelly, a Duke basketball manager, didnt particularly care for his freshman dorm, so he would hang out with his big brother, Ryan, at his off-campus apartment. Ryan, then a junior on the basketball team, lived with teammate Andre Dawkins. Round-robin tournaments with a version of the NBA 2K game for Xbox were frequent among the three, but the younger Kelly and Dawkins shared another hobby.
It started with golf, Sean Kelly said. We were both beginners, and we were both embarrassed to play with anyone else good, so we just started playing golf a lot and just hanging out, and it developed a lot last year, especially in the fall.
Dawkins, now a redshirt senior, had more free time last year than in previous years. He took a leave of absence from the team in order to work through the grief associated with the 2009 death of his sister, Lacey. She died in a car crash en route to watch Dawkins play against St. Johns.
After Dukes disappointing 2012 NCAA tournament loss to Lehigh, Dawkins met with the coaching staff. Clearly, the present situation wasnt working. Some games, he was unstoppable, and in others, he would disappear. After shooting 6-for-9 from 3-point range and finishing with 22 points at Florida State on Feb. 23, Dawkins hit two more 3-pointers (out of 17 attempts) and scored a combined eight points over the final six games.
Gone, but not totally removed
Deciding to take a year away was a two-way street, with Dawkins and the coaching staff having a say. Without his daily basketball obligations, Dawkins had some free time. And with Sean Kelly, he had a golfing buddy.
The first semester we ended up golfing, it felt like at least once a week, Kelly said. We would go to the movies. We got really close.
Hillandale was the course of choice. The two didnt talk about Dawkins grief and personal feelings he had his parents and a counselor for that. Instead, it was Dawkins who offered Kelly advice.
I was seeing a girl or if I needed advice on how to take out a girl, he would give me advice. Youve got to take her out here, youve got to go here, youve got to get her a nice dinner, stuff like that, Kelly said. He was like a second big brother, basically.
Once the season started last year, the two would go shoot basketballs at night. Kelly, like Dawkins and older brother Ryan, can shoot from downtown he beat N.C. States Scott Wood in a 3-point shooting contest at an ACC Barnstorming stop last spring.
When the team went on the road, Kelly and the other managers would stay and do film work. Dawkins started coming to those sessions, too.
There was definitely a period where it was like, lets just step away, Kelly said of Dawkins and basketball. We did a lot of golf. But when the season started, that was when I started to know.
When Kelly saw his friend sitting behind the bench at Dukes first home game, he knew Dawkins had the itch again. Kelly started to see the passion come back to Dawkins this was the guy who was the first to tackle Austin Rivers after his game-winning shot at North Carolina, after all. When senior walk-on Todd Zafirovski scored his first career basket Dec. 1 against Delaware, Dawkins celebration caught Kellys eye.
It was just really big, Kelly said. It was really cool to see him still really going out and enjoying it. He was rooting for the guys.
Second chance at Duke
After Dukes season ended with a loss to Louisville in the Elite Eight, it was time for Dawkins and the staff to decide what he would do with his final year of eligibility. He was prepared to have to go elsewhere to continue playing.
Youve got to be ready for anything, to meet the coach and have them say, Hey, were going to move on in a different direction, Dawkins said. Youve got to weigh your options and make sure youre ready for anything that could happen.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski left the decision up to Dawkins. He could rejoin the Duke team, transfer, stop playing, whatever he wanted. Dawkins wanted to resume his career at Duke.
I chose Duke for a reason, and Duke chose me for a reason, he said. Those reasons still stand. I didnt want to be anywhere else. They gave me an opportunity to get myself better off the court that most programs and most coaches wouldnt have given a player. I was really grateful for that. That just validated my decision to come here in the first place.
Krzyzewski wanted it to be Dawkins choice.
He was at a time in his life where you take ownership, Krzyzewski said. Its called taking responsibility for what youre going to do. Its on no one else. Hes done that, and hes in a good place.
Dawkins changed his jersey number this year to No. 34 in honor of sharpshooter Ray Allen. Its also the jersey his original roommate, Ryan Kelly, wore during his four years, and Dawkins has taken over his locker spot, too.
People ask me if I can still shoot, and I ask them if they can still breathe. Thats kind of the same thing, Dawkins said, sitting in front of his locker, holding court with the media on the first day of practice. Im going to be able to shoot for a long time.
It was where Kelly sat last year and told reporters he, too, could still shoot after his foot injury, and he went out and scored 36 points against Miami a few days later. Dawkins began this years practices as the teams sixth man, spelling Rasheed Sulaimon at the off-ball guard position and helping pace the offense and defense up and down the floor.
Last years break was necessary, Dawkins said, and now hes back, ready to focus 100 percent on basketball. He moved in with Sean Kelly, his old golf buddy. Dawkins golf game has improved significantly a score in the high 80s is a good day, Kelly said. And his basketball game is as smooth as ever.
I was joking with him the other day after practice, Its just so fun to watch you now, you just seem like theres this huge weight off your shoulders, Kelly said of Dawkins. You seem like you have fun again.