Indelible memories of Northern Illinois University Athletics Hall of Famer Paul “Doctor D” Dawkins are many.
From 1975-79, the “Doctor” raised the standards at Evans Field House. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound swingman made filling the scorebook an art – not only at NIU, but with Saginaw (Michigan) High School, the Utah Jazz, the Anchorage Northern Knights of the CBA and Galatasaray in Turkey.
For all the stories I’ve written about Paul over the years, I never thought I’d be doing this tribute obituary. I’m the guy on Medicare. Yes, the 61-year-old Dawkins passed away March 25 in Texas.
Cue those flashbacks.
Feb. 28, 1979: In his second-to-last game wearing that Huskie No. 44 jersey, Dawkins capped an unprecedented senior season by scoring a career-high and NIU Division I era individual-best 47 points in a 102-100 overtime victory at Western Michigan. “Doctor D” was unconscious, drawing “ohs” and “ahs” from even the Bronco partisans.
“What people tend to forget is how team-oriented and unselfish Paul was,” the late NIU Hall of Fame head coach John McDougal said. “Point-wise, he had a phenomenal performance, but I will never forget that the last play of the game, Paul swatted a Western Michigan shot into the bleachers so we could win a difficult [Mid-American Conference] game on the road.”
As conservative as McDougal appeared to some, he knew what he had and gave “Doctor D” the “green light,” especially as a junior and a senior when he operated for 1,204 points in 51 appearances (23.7 points a game). Dawkins graduated with seven major NIU scoring marks, leaving the school as the all-time career leader with 1,736 points. He now is No. 4 on that list.
Forty years later, no player in program history has converted more career field goals (751), taken more shots from the floor (1,636), scored more single-season points (695 in 1978-79) or averaged more points a game in a season (26.7 in 1978-79). Only four NCAA D-I performers averaged more that winter as “Doctor D” smashed the 30-point barrier eight times and reached 40s twice.
The accolades followed: repeat First-Team All-MAC, MAC Player of the Year, First-Team U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District Four and Special Mention Sporting News All-America. You may have heard of some of his peers on that 1979 First-Team USBWA All-District unit – Earvin Johnson and Greg Kelser (Michigan State), Joe Barry Carroll (Purdue), Ronnie Lester (Iowa) and Kelly Tripucka (Notre Dame). Mid-major, my butt.
“Offensively, there were few who could touch him,” McDougal said. “Paul was a threat anywhere in the frontcourt. He had a tremendous jump shot, great range and an uncanny outside touch. He could take it to the basket and rebound against bigger opposition. As a senior, he was a marked man in the MAC and still was unstoppable. [He] was a rare talent that comes along once a decade or so.”
So how did a player from Saginaw wind up in DeKalb? Then-NIU head coach Emory Luck was looking for a big-time scorer in 1974-75. Talk about recruiting ironies.
“My mission was to find somebody who could shoot the ball,” former assistant Walt Owens said. “A friend told me there’s a kid in Saginaw who’s really good, so I went up there to see him play. Paul didn’t score a point. I came back, and Emory asked me how many points Paul scored. ‘Zero,’ I said. Emory said, ‘Maybe we should look elsewhere.’ ”
Owens saw Dawkins a second time. Same result, no points. The third time? Three. Still, Owens kept Dawkins, an all-league and honorable mention all-state player, No. 1 on his prospect list. Why?
“Paul moved so well,” Owens explained. “He was so smooth, good hands and left-handed.”
Doctor D’s scoring exploits seem unworldly. Before Karl Malone, Dawkins held the Jazz scoring mark for a half (30 points in 24 minutes against Portland in 1981) and played in 57 games that season. In Turkey, the “Doctor” averaged 31 points a game over an eight-year overseas career, including 37 points a game in 1982-83. At the MAC Legends game in 1998 at Toledo, he topped all scorers with 22 points.
What bugged Dawkins for years was getting drafted in the 10th round by Utah in 1979. Considering his perimeter skills and that his teammate, Matt Hicks, went to the San Antonio Spurs as a fourth-rounder in 1977, Paul was a bit miffed. “Mike,” he asked once, “who blackballed me?” Still a mystery to this day. When I saw him last in 2007, he had a different view. “You know, all in all, I had a pretty good run in basketball,” Dawkins said.
The nickname? The student fans in Evans gave him that moniker, not me. But I used it to death. Still do. My boss, Bud Nangle, tried to jar me into reality during a game. “You know,” Nangle said, “there’s this guy named Julius Erving.” Me: “I know, but look in the stands.” Two students were holding a placard that read “Score one for me, Dr. D.”
Paul Dawkins has been “Doctor D” ever since.
• Mike Korcek is a 1970 graduate of NIU and was the school’s head sports information director from 1984-2006. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.