Trio of Guards Following Similar Paths, Chasing Same Dream

by Wheat Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

June 12, 2014

In addition to a local star and a pair of athletic forwards, Thursday’s Pacers pre-draft workouts included three guards who just completed their senior years at major college programs.

Keith Appling, Andre Dawkins, and Scottie Wilbekin have a lot in common. They honed their crafts under three of the most respected coaches in college basketball – coaches that have combined to win seven national championships. Each of Appling, Dawkins, and Wilbekin achieved great heights during their time in college.

But what ties these three together isn’t their on-court accomplishments, but what they have overcome. In just the past year, each player has faced some form of significant adversity – be it an injury, tragedy, or disciplinary issue.

Through it all, they have persevered, grown, matured. And on Thursday morning they all found themselves on the practice court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, chasing the same dream.

Of the three, Appling was the most familiar with his surroundings. Appling was the starting point guard for Michigan State when the Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament at The Fieldhouse in 2012. The Spartans repeated that feat again this March.

Appling saw steady improvement in each of his four years at East Lansing. He averaged 13.4 points per game as a junior and looked even better for the first 22 games of his senior season, averaging 15.0 points and 4.9 assists per contest.

But then Appling injured his wrist on his shooting hand. The injury forced him to sit out three games, and when he returned, his numbers plummeted. He scored in double figures just twice in his last 13 games and made just 2-of-15 attempts from 3-point range over that span.

Still, Appling remained a valuable leader and contributor for head coach Tom Izzo, who played his senior point guard 37 minutes in both the semifinals and finals of the Big Ten Tournament.

With his wrist healed, Appling is out to prove that he has the tools to be an NBA point guard. At just 6-foot-1, he is a little undersized and could improve his shot. But Appling proved to be a gifted scorer in the Big Ten and possesses exceptional speed. And while his wrist injury may have hampered his draft stock, the fact that he played through it is a testament to his toughness.

Andre Dawkins knows what it means to play through pain. During his freshman year at Duke, Dawkins endured well-documented personal tragedy. In spite of that painful experience, Dawkins was a key contributor for the Blue Devils team that wound up winning the national championship in Indianapolis.

But after his junior season, Dawkins stepped away from the game to deal with lingering personal issues stemming from the tragedy.

He returned to the floor this fall as a redshirt senior. On a loaded Duke roster, Dawkins played just 13.7 minutes per game this past season, but he continued to flash one of the country’s sweetest shooting strokes, connecting on over 42 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Dawkins knows that teams are going to ask him about taking a break from basketball, but he believes that experience revitalized and reenergized him.

“Taking a year off I was able to handle what I needed to off the court,” Dawkins said. “And now I’ve got the love of the game back and I’m just ready to take the next step in my career.“

A 6-foot-5 guard, Dawkins believes he could play either wing position at the next level. He knows that outside shooting is always something NBA teams covet, so he’s hopeful he can carve out a role for himself at the next level.

As he goes through this process (Thursday was his sixth workout with a team), Dawkins is leaning on Duke’s extensive network of NBA players. He remains in frequent contact with close friend Ryan Kelly, who just completed his rookie season with the Lakers, and recently visited with veteran guard Gerald Henderson in Charlotte.

“It’s been great to have guys that I know go through this so they can help me out a little bit,” Dawkins said.

Unlike Appling or Dawkins, Scottie Wilbekin’s adversity was self-inflicted. The Gainesville native enjoyed a breakout junior year at his hometown college, but leading up to his senior year at Florida, Wilbekin had undisclosed disciplinary issues that caused head coach Billy Donovan to suspend his starting point guard for the first three games of the year.

Wilbekin, who graduated high school a year early (he only turned 21 a little over two months ago), bounced back in a big way when he returned to the court.

The 6-foot-2 guard was named SEC Player of the Year, averaging 13.2 points, 3.7 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. He anchored the nation’s best defense statistically and helped lead the Gators to the Final Four.

“I learned a lot of things, mostly just matured and grew as a person and as a player,” Wilbekin said of his whirlwind senior season. “And I think that helped me and my game.”

It is rare for a Player of the Year in the SEC to not be considered a lock for the first round, but that’s exactly where Wilbekin finds himself. Despite a reputation as a lock-down defender and a solid outside stroke (he shot 39 percent from three as a senior), Wilbekin’s lack of size and lingering questions about his off-court issues have him projected to go in the late second round or undrafted on most mock draft sites.

If there is a blueprint for Wilbekin to follow, it might have best been laid out by one of his former Florida teammates. Chandler Parsons was SEC Player of the Year in 2010-11 (Wilbekin’s freshman year), but slid into the second round of the draft, going 38th overall to the Houston Rockets.

But Parsons has thrived in Houston, averaging 16.6 points per game during his third season in 2013-14.

“I would love to follow his path,” Wilbekin said. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s out of my control. I just can focus on what I can control, and that’s working hard and just trying to get the most out of these workouts.”

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