While millions of Americans prepped their grills, coolers and fireworks setups on July 4th, Aubrey Dawkins and his New Orleans Pelicans teammates spent the holiday making the final preparations for their 2019 NBA Summer League premiere, which comes vs. the New York Knicks tonight at 9:30 on ESPN.
“I’m excited for it, that’s all I can say,” Dawkins told Black and Gold Banneret following Thursday’s practice. “I’m excited for the opportunity. It’s a new journey, and I’m ready for it.”
Dawkins watched last month’s NBA Draft with his family from their house in Florida. Although he wasn’t one of the 60 players selected, he said he wasn’t really disappointed and rather expected such an outcome.
“I knew my road was going to be tough, and that’s exactly what it is. It is what it is. It’s the path I was given, so I try not to think about that. We all live a different journey. I’m running my own race.”
But immediately following that 60th and final pick, calls came in from a handful of NBA teams longing for Dawkins’ services as a mature, knowledgeable and at times explosive 3-and-D wing. So why did he choose the Pelicans?
“I felt like It’s the best opportunity for me, for my career, to grow myself as a player. I thought this was the place I wanted to be. I knew the players that were here; there’s some good players here and some good talent here, so it just felt like a good spot.”
One of those good players is, of course, Zion Williamson. The last time Dawkins and the league’s newest No. 1 pick shared a court, they played leading roles in what was the best UCF game in any sport during the 2018-19 athletic year.
However, It’s a game that Aubrey — like his father — will likely never watch.
“It’s a heartbreak every time.”
But Dawkins doesn’t need to see the UCF-Duke NCAA Tournament classic on TV to be reminded of it.
“Obviously, being a teammate with Zion, it comes up pretty often. ... Just fun banter back and forth. It’s been hilarious, but it’s all in fun.”
Dawkins was pretty thin on specifics, so I asked if, for example, he ever tells Zion that he played better than him that day. A laugh escapes before he responds: “Nah, nah, nah. He played a great game, too. He willed them to a win, so ....”
As he trails off, I remind Dawkins that Williamson’s own coach, Mike Krzyzewski, called him the best player on the floor. There’s no shying away from that praise.
“That he did. That he did.”
Dawkins admits that everything will feel a little different Friday night, but he’s trying not to overthink it. After all, it’s still just basketball. And he has traveled quite a road — being almost completely overlooked coming out of high school; going from Northern California to New Hampshire to Michigan and to UCF in order to chase his dreams; dealing with more than two years away from the game in the process; experiencing the utmost highs and lows in college basketball — to get to this point. Now it’s time for his NBA career to begin.
“I’m grateful for it all. I have no regrets about it,” he said. “... Everything I’ve gone through will only help and benefit me in the long run.”