Andre Dawkins heard the cheers at Cameron Indoor Stadium again Saturday morning.
The Duke guard Dawkins glided to the corner of the court, caught the basketball turned and fired in a 3-pointer during the Blue Devils practice that was open to the public.
Hustling back on defense, he deflected a pass and even though the opposing group recovered the ball, a smile fell across his face.
Less than 24 hours earlier, when only Duke personnel were at practice, Dawkins returned to the court for the first time since March 2012.
His time away was designed to clear his mind, which was cluttered with personal issues the last season he played in 2011-12.
Dawkins said that’s exactly what happened.
“I’m happier,” Dawkins said Friday. “I smile a little bit more. I can go out on the court and have fun.”
In March 2012, no one at Duke was happy. The Blue Devils were upset by Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament, abruptly ending their season the tournament’s first weekend.
Dawkins, a junior guard, had been in and out of the lineup due to inconsistent play. He ended the season making just 2 of his final 17 3-pointers over the final six games.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils coaching staff decided it was best if Dawkins took a year off from basketball even though he was entering his senior year.
In December 2009, Dawkins’ older sister Lacey was killed in car accident while she was en route to Durham to watch Andre Dawkins play for the Blue Devils. The date of her death, 12-5-09, is tattooed on Andre Dawkins’ left wrist.
That grief still bothered Andre Dawkins nearly three years later and Krzyzewski’s opinion was it was hurting his basketball.
“The decision to do what he had to do was not all his decision for that year,” Krzyzewski said Friday. “We helped him make that decision. How it was implemented, he had a right to make that decision. He could have not stayed at Duke. He made some decisions. But the decision not to play was ours.”
Lacey Dawkins death was the prevailing reason for Andre Dawkins' issues. There were other things, but he didn’t disclose them.
“I guess it was a bunch of things,” he said.
Not playing basketball, something he’d been involved with for most of his life, wasn’t easy. But he went through counseling, started playing a lot of golf and focused on his studies.
“It was tough at first,” Dawkins said. “A lot of extra free time. But I think it was necessary and it helped me get to a better point, a better place where I am now.”
Dawkins also drew closer to his family, having deep conversations about his feelings that he had suppressed previously.
His father, also named Andre Dawkins, said he was “shocked” at the things his son expressed to him.
The younger Andre Dawkins attended most Duke home games, sitting behind the bench, and either watched road games on TV at home or at Cameron Indoor Stadium with some team managers.
His friendships with his Duke teammates remained a big part of his life, too.
“We still had a few classes together,” said Duke senior forward Josh Hairston, who has known Dawkins since they played on a Virginia 15-under team nearly a decade ago. “He came over to the house to watch games. We never lost contact with him.”
Ryan Kelly, a senior last season who is now a Los Angeles Lakers rookie, was close to Dawkins as they were former roommates. Dawkins lived off-campus last year.
During the 2011-12 season, Kelly could see his friend was hurting.
“I definitely think at times you could see it,” Kelly said. “I didn’t know what it as at the time. He was a little more emotional. Not getting as excited like normal basketball players do. We all go through our ups and downs. But you don’t; want anything outside of basketball to affect what happens on the court. At times that may have happened.”
Last April, the time had come to determine the next step in Dawkins’ career. He had three choices: transfer to another school to play this season immediately as a graduate student, give up his basketball career altogether or play his senior season at Duke.
Dawkins was in the process of sending Krzyzewski a text message to discuss his next step when Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski called him. Dawkins told Wojciechowski he wanted to play for Duke again.
Next came a meeting with Krzyzewski.
“He earned the right to make this decision,” Krzyzewski said. “I would have been fine. I didn’t try to coax him into doing any one of those three. Once he said he wanted to come back. I said `Are you sure?’ Then I said `Ok. Clean Slate. Let’s go.’”
Dawkins completed his Duke degree and is now enrolled in classes at Duke’s Divinity School as a graduate student. Krzyzewski was impressed with how he handled the year away.
“When he was coming back was not a hard decision,” Krzyzewski said. “It was basically his decision. I would have gone in all directions. I felt that year really helped him. He feels that really helped him. Also it was productive. He graduated from Duke University.”
Before he headed to California to start his NBA career, Kelly spent some time around Dawkins and could see a difference in his friend.
“I saw that he found a newfound appreciation for the game,” Kelly said. “I saw joy when he was playing. The game of basketball was supposed to be fun. Nothing else could be weighing on him.”
Nearly seeing his basketball career end under those circumstances affected Dawkins.
“Basketball is something that you might take for granted,” Dawkins said. “It’s something that’s always been there. Stepping away, or having it taken away, gives you a little appreciation for it.”
Jon Scheyer was Dawkins’ teammate in the 2009-10 season, which saw Duke win the NCAA championship. He was there in the Blue Devils locker room on Dec. 5, 2009, when Dawkins learned of his sister’s death.
He was also there in the NCAA Tournament, when Dawkins hit a pair of important 3-pointers to help beat Baylor in the regional final to send Duke to the Final Four.
“If we didn’t have that, we don’t win that game,” Scheyer said.
Former Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, now Northwestern’s head coach, is just s blunt.
“He showed even at a young age to have ice water in his veins,” Collins said. “We don’t win the national championship without him.”
Scheyer is back this season on the Duke coaching staff as a special assistant coach. He sees how Dawkins has matured.
“He battled through and battled through,” Scheyer said. “But that’s a tough thing and it can stay with you if you don’t address it. He’s done that.”
The most visible thing that’s different about Dawkins is clear for all to see. He dumped the No. 20 he wore his first three seasons and is now wearing No. 34. He said the reason stems from his appreciation for NBA guard Ray Allen.
But Kelly previously wore that number for Duke. The two discussed the move.
“I’m fine with it,” Kelly said. “Better him than anyone else. He told me was thinking about doing it. I said `As long as you can keep up the great shooting numbers.’”
Dawkins, on Friday, offered a joke back to his friend.
“I think he was a little upset,” Dawkins said, “because it looks a little better on me than it does on him. He’ll live with it.”
Dawkins is living with basketball and life’s highs and lows. And jokes come a whole lot easier now.