This is about what family can mean, amid the clamor of college basketball. This is about three fathers, three sons — and one special bond of a game.
This was 2002 . . .
Mike Davis had coached Indiana to the Final Four, and nearly everywhere he roamed in Atlanta, a little boy tagged along, wearing his tiny Hoosiers jersey. “When I went to a press conference for the national championship game, he was in my arms,” said Davis, nearly 17 years later. “He’d be at all the practices. Every day was like a vacation for him.”
That little boy now? He’s Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, putting up 27.7 points a game to stand second in the nation in scoring as a freshman — coached by the father who once held him in his arms at the Final Four.
“It’s not me,” Mike Davis said. “He’s the one who put all the work in.”
Meet Antoine Davis. He ranks No. 2 nationally in scoring at 31.2 ppg. He's made 33-of-62 3-pointers (53.2 percent)— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) November 21, 2018
He didn't expect to be in Detroit. Neither did his dad.https://t.co/zUpXphuY16@TheAthleticCBB@TheAthleticDET pic.twitter.com/QF3sFec0LR
This was the opener of the 2018-19 season at Oregon State . . .
It was the first time coach Wayne Tinkle and his leading scorer would conduct the pre-game ritual they had agreed upon. They hugged. The first couple of seasons, they shook hands, and that had taken some deliberation, too. For in the beginning, Wayne’s first instinct had been to say no, not wishing to call too much attention to a personal situation. After all, the player was Tres Tinkle, his child.
“He wanted to have something distinct between father and son that maybe was going to be special. He told his sisters and mom about it and they kind of tested me out,” Wayne said. “They explained it meant something to him.”
Tres Tinkle is a young man now — scoring 20 points game, second highest in the Pac-12. But he has no problem saying how much he likes a hug from his dad: “Everything we’ve been through, the highs and lows, the embrace brings a lot of comfort and helps us realize that no matter what, we have each other’s back and we’re both proud of each other and we believe in each other.
“It has a lot more meaning behind it.”
This was early January . . .
UCF has just won at Connecticut for the first time ever, and coach Johnny Dawkins tweeted out a picture of him walking with the player who had led the way with 23 points. Two guys, savoring a victory together. Dawkins added words at the bottom of the tweet:
“Loving this part of the journey with my son by my side.”
It wasn’t always so. Dawkins had been a star on Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four team at Duke — setting the Blue Devils' all-time scoring record — then played in the NBA, and then got busy building a good coaching career, as an assistant at Duke, and in charge at Stanford. A man doing all that has a tight schedule, which is why Aubrey Dawkins played a lot of games as a kid with only his mother in stands.
But Johnny gets to see all of Aubrey’s games now as his coach, and it is hard to decide to whom that means more. Father, or son.
Johnny: “I worked him out all the time, trained him every day. I just couldn’t go to a lot of his games because I was coaching. Having coached him now and seeing how he prepares, his work ethic, watching some of the things he does on the floor . . . I do see some of me in him. I’ll never tell him that.”
Aubrey: “For all those high school games and middle school games and elementary school games that he missed, now he can see me play at such a high level. It means everything.”
Coach and player. Father and son. Each is a dynamic duo evoking strong emotion, so imagine if you put them together. It is a common sight — especially in high school, less so in college — but the rewards can be uncommon. And the challenges.
The fathers understand that, and the sons, too. They are connected by the past, and the road from then to now has not always been smooth.
THE LATE BLOOMER
When Mike Davis looks at Antoine, he can see the kid cut from his middle school team. Mike knew there was only one answer: Whatever it took.
Mike was coaching Texas Southern in Houston at the time. Get Antoine hooked up with basketball guru John Lucas in town for special mentoring? Sure. Homeschool him, so he’d have more time to work on his game? Absolutely. Set up a rigorous practice regimen that would do Marines proud? You betcha. Sometimes, Antoine has to make 25 shots in a row in one spot, before he can move on to the next. Every shot, every day is charted. A systematic quest for greatness.
“What we wanted him to do was spend six hours in the gym every day, because he was playing catchup,” Mike said. “When you’re playing catchup, you have to put a lot of time in.”
In his first 18 college games, Antoine has topped 20 points 13 times, 30 points eight times, 40 points twice. He has 90 3-pointers and is rapidly closing on the NCAA freshman of record of 122, held by a future Golden State Warrior named Stephen Curry. Meanwhile, Detroit Mercy is showing definitive signs of life in Mike Davis’ first season. The Titans’ 5-1 Horizon League record is their best conference start in 20 years. The 8-10 overall record already matches last season’s win total.
Antoine Davis posted his 8th, 30-pt. game of the year with 32 in the win over Milwaukee and added 7 assists and 2 steals. He now has 85 triples to lead DI and is fourth in school history and still pursuing @StephenCurry30 NCAA FR. record of 122 #DetroitsCollegeTeam @NCAAStats pic.twitter.com/QdufuBX8TK— Detroit Mercy MBB (@DetroitMBB) January 13, 2019
The Horizon League has seen Mike Davis’ son, and it is starting to understand what all that work was about. The Duke freshmen get the buzz, but just look at this kid’s numbers.
“At first when I was young, I wondered why he was so hard on me,” Antoine said. “But at the end of the day it really paid off for me. Now I just ignore how tough he is on me.”
Yes, Davis is proud of what his son is accomplishing.
“He still has to make the shots. No matter who he’s playing for, he has to make the shots. I’m quite sure the defenders guarding him are not concerned who’s son he is, they’re trying to stop him.”
And no, he’s not surprised.
“Anytime you shoot 60,000 shots in 12 days and you shoot an average of 3 or 4,000 shots a day outside of that for the last three or four years, I’m not surprised. Or when you put six hours a day in because we homeschooled him.”
Wait a second. Sixty-thousand shots in 12 days? Could he lift his tooth brush in the morning? “It’s really tiring,” Antoine said. “But it was well worth it. At the same time, it was really hard to do.”
Said Mike: “I would be lying if I said it was just a coach watching a player. I always have to be a father. I feel like I’m a father to a lot of players I coach. But it’s more of I know the work he’s put in, and I wish everybody else would put the same work in. Because it’s not DNA, it’s not genetics, it’s work.”
The spotlight is invariably finding his son, as the numbers mount. Antoine said he has other goals in mind — to make his team a winner, and his dad, too. “It’s an honor, but I’m really doing it all for the program, putting the program on the map.”
When Wayne Tinkle looks at Tres, he can see all the tough moments between them when this started at Oregon State.
“He had never had me coach or criticize constructively him in front of his peers. It’s always been one-on-one on the car ride home, or watching films at the house," Wayne said. "So there was an adjustment period where he wasn’t sure if I had confidence in him. Kind of, woe is me, dad only sees the negative. But he fought through it. He admits he had to grow up a little bit. He’s a tough kid but obviously playing for dad put him in a little different light he wasn’t used to. Kind of the beginning of every year, we had to iron some things out.”
The Tinkle home has always been packed with good basketball players. Wayne was all-Big Sky three years at Montana. Wife Lisa is in the Montana Hall of Fame. One daughter, Joslyn, played in the Final Four with Stanford. Another, Elle, in the Sweet 16 with Gonzaga.
Then there was Tres, the youngest.
When dad and son were having some conflict, this house of hoops would choose sides. As Wayne said, “There was no place to hide.” Lisa being a mother, she often aligned with her son. The sisters went with dad. “Which kept the siblings from talking from time to time,” Wayne said.
“My mom was a good mediator. I wouldn’t say I had an ally with my sisters,” Tres said. “I’d tell them, `I remember the non-stop phone calls you had, complaining about what a coach said or how they’re being unfair. Now that I’m doing the same thing, it’s different, just because he’s dad.’”
Ah, the fragile peace of siblings. Wayne again: “Now, everybody’s got a pretty good grip. We all had a lot of growth through the process.”
Especially father and son.
Tres: “That’s his biggest MO; you earn what you get. He made that very clear. I thought he was being hard on me for no reason. A lot of it was I was immature. As I got older, he saw how dedicated I am, how hard I worked, and that’s when the rewards and benefits started to kick in.”
“Being able to come to practice every single day seeing your dad out there is something special that a lot of people don’t get to experience. Being able to do what I love to do and what he loves together is very special.”
Wayne sought out advice from other coaches. Greg McDermott on how it went at Creighton with Doug. Steve Alford, who then had a son at UCLA. “I had a great call from (former coach) Mike Montgomery when we first got Tres here. He said he’d better be really good or really bad. Obviously if he’s really good, then everybody understands why he’s playing. And if he’s really bad, there’s no pressure on me to play him.”
Tres, who battled a hard-luck run of injuries early in his college career, has been really good, leading his team in scoring, assists and rebounds. Oregon State is 11-4, and off to a 3-0 start in the Pac-12. And his father has tried to change, remembering something Alford said; enjoy every moment together, because the opportunity rushes past.
“I’ve been focusing on giving myself more in that light, I need to show him I’m enjoying this.” Wayne said. “Part of the problem early on was I would criticize and discipline him as hard as anybody but I really probably muffled the praise because he was my kid, which wasn’t fair. So I kind of err now on the side of showing when I’m proud of him and happy for him.”
And so, when Tres hit a crucial 3-pointer in the win at Oregon and was on his way back to the huddle, the man once so guarded in his fatherly praise gave his son a forehead-to-forehead bump. Lisa Tinkle has been looking all over, trying to find a picture of it.
“That’s something you can put on your mantle forever,” Wayne said.
Oh, there are detractors out there. Always will be, about a coach’s son, and social media only makes it worse, providing its free shots. Which is why Wayne took the Twitter and Instagram icons off his phone. Tres clings to social media, as college kids do, but put it wisely through experience: “You just can’t let it get to you. The people who know the least think they know the most.”
When Johnny Dawkins looks at Aubrey, he can see the son struggling to regain the game. Aubrey spent two solid seasons at Michigan, but decided to transfer to UCF, with a major reason being the chance to play for his dad. That meant a year out. Then he seriously hurt his shoulder. That meant another year out.
Aubrey: “It taught me a lot about myself and perseverance and surviving through adversity. Nothing’s promised to you, any moment the game can be taken away from you, so you should appreciate the game and play it for what it is, and not try to steal from the game, I guess. Play it for the fun of the game, for the love of the game and nothing else.”
Johnny: “From my standpoint I was really proud of him and how he handled it. He could have easily drooped his shoulders and said, why me? We’ve always talked about how you handle adversity and how it defines you. I thought he handled it as good as you could.”
It was at the end of his second lost season that Aubrey turned on the national championship game and watched . . . his old Michigan team playing for the title.
“I definitely thought about it,” Aubrey said. “Woulda, shoulda, coulda, you know? But life doesn’t work like that. My only goal now is to help take this team and create something UCF has never seen before.”
Like the other fathers and sons, the Dawkins realize it is not always easy, the two of them together.
“I try my best to keep it just player-coach, but it’s human nature that you want to have some moments that it’s more father-son, when you see some things out there,” said Johnny.
He also understands what Tinkle meant about being perfectly able to criticize, but too cautious to compliment. “I’m still going through it now. It does put you in a little bit of a box in those situations. He is your son. You look at it where, everyone realizes he’s your son, all the players realize he’s your son, so they’re looking at every one of your reactions to whatever he does. So you want to make sure you keep a healthy balance there.”
And he understands what happens when any father-son, coach-player conflict is taken home to Tracy Dawkins, wife and mother. “I know where her loyalty lies, and it’s not with me. I’ve been on the couch a few times already.”
Aubrey had few college recruiters on his path while in high school, and needed a growth spurt and a year in prep school to become a prospect. Between that and the injury, his journey has seldom been easy, requiring patience and persistence. He has come to understand having his father – the decorated basketball lifer -- by his side has been a gift.
“With what he’s been able to do in the game. I go OK, he can’t be too wrong. He’s seen and done it all. Sometimes you have to listen to what he’s saying and not how he says it. Obviously he knows the game much better than I do.
"To see our guys respond and get 16 o-boards was big." - Coach Dawkins— UCF Men's Basketball (@UCF_MBB) January 14, 2019
More from Coach, Chad and Aubrey at the mic 👇 pic.twitter.com/jhP9J7LoCn
“And that’s your dad. He’s going to know everything about you. He’s going to know when you’re not giving 100 percent. There’s no shortcuts, there’s no getting by.
“I would love to be the caliber player that he was, but he knows and I know that I’m going to do it my own way. I can’t be him, I never will be able to be him, but I can still be a really good basketball player. I don’t let who he was and what he did affect who I am and what I do. That’s made it a much easier game for me.”
Aubrey is averaging 16 points a game and UCF is a favorite in the American conference with a 13-2 record, and would be 15-0 if not for a couple of buzzer-beaters. Now would be the time to mention UCF has not been in the NCAA tournament in 14 years, and Johnny Dawkins has head coached in it but once, at Stanford. Aubrey Dawkins wants badly to help do something about both.
“To get to the NCAA tournament, win the American conference, playing for my dad, creating a legacy, all that stuff is the reason that I came. Helping him fulfill his journey, I can’t even put that into words. That’s something that’s priceless.”
Priceless. The coaches and fathers of college basketball understand that word. Their players and sons do, too. Good days, hard days, emotions hither and yon, sometimes soothing mothers and frowning wives and unsympathetic sisters, and unfeeling fans. But always priceless.