The Kara era has begun at Duke.
Kara Lawson believes that the X's and O's on the court will come, but right now building a relationship-based program is Lawson's main charge as the new Blue Devils women's basketball coach. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic adding layers of limitation to the interaction of players and coaches.
"I meet with our players regularly, one-on-one just to make sure that we're building a strong foundation in our relationship and in my relationship with each player," Lawson told NCAA.com. "If you're going to coach somebody, you better have a strong foundation that they know who you are and you know who they are, so for those moments where there's a little bit of adversity, each person in that relationship knows the foundation. They know the true character of the person that they're dealing with, and that allows you to have those moments of adversity and get past them."
She will look to continue the Blue Devils winning ways, which included a streak of 21 consecutive NCAA tournament berths from 1994 to 2015 that spanned the tenures of coaches Gail Goestenkors and Joanne P. McCallie. Lawson replaces McCallie, who opted not to return in the final year of her contract after a 330-107 record at Duke.
It's beyond basketball with Lawson. She wants to make an impact on these young women like the late Pat Summit did for her at Tennessee.
"If I'm able to impact one quarter, or one-tenth of these young women the way Pat Summit impacted me I would consider myself to be a successful coach," Lawson said. "She had a great way about her in terms of honing in on strengths and weaknesses as a player and person, and then getting the best out of you. And really challenging you to confront those weakness and work on them to get better. That's what I'm hopeful I'm able to do with our young women here in our program at Duke."
Lawson made her expectations clear that she will hold every one of her players to a high standard.
Lawson has seen the game through many lenses: a collegiate and professional player, USA 3x3 coach, color analyst and an NBA assistant coach with the Boston Celtics during the 2019-20 season. Lawson plans to use that to her advantage and make it part of her own unique coaching style. She'll be helped by new assistant coaches Winston Gandy, Tia Jackson and Beth Cunningham.
"I wanted people that could run their own program and people that understood the nuances of the college game," Lawson said. "It's no secret it's my first year as a college coach, and having people that have the type of experience and professionalism that those three have, that's already proven to pay dividends for me in the first month and a half on the job. There is pretty much no question that they can't answer, all three of them, if I have a question about something, they're ready to go."
Lawson will also have men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski to lean on. Lawson told NCAA.com that she would be "pretty foolish not to take time to spend with him as much as he allows." So far, Lawson has sought advice in program building, Duke's culture, and of course, talked about the Celtics' Jayson Tatum, who both coached.
One person's advice that Lawson will miss the most is her father's. She wrote a moving letter to him after he passed away in 2017, which is pinned to the top of her Twitter account:
My dad passed away on Friday morning. I wrote him a letter. pic.twitter.com/i5aj2bDWMQ— Kara Lawson (@karalawson20) August 27, 2017
"I think his advice would be to just be yourself," Lawson said. "When you're in a position like this, I think there's sometimes a desire or danger of try to be like somebody else when you get here. The reality is you just have to be yourself and you have to approach it and go about it the way that you see fit. I think that's what he would tell me. That's the person he raised me to be is to be someone authentic, is true to who they are, and knows without a doubt that I'm good enough to do it. So that inner confidence would definitely show through."