For love of the kids: Dawson is back where it all started
Rochelle Middle School head basketball coach Joshua Dawson, center, instructs his team at a recent basketball practice. Photo by Bryan Hanks / Neuse News
The competitive glimmer is still strong in Joshua Dawson’s eyes. He’s learning to exercise the leadership traits he learned from his family, teachers and coaches over the past two decades. As a result, his Rochelle Middle School squad – the same one he led to championships in 2008 and 2009 as the Junior Vikings’ point guard – is the beneficiary.
Dawson has returned to Kinston – he’s at Rochelle as the boys’ basketball coach and at Northeast Elementary School as a special needs’ instructor – and he couldn’t be happier.
“For years, I’ve known I have a passion for kids, a competitive drive and I wanted to become a coach,” Dawson said. “But I knew I wanted to do it here at home. I wanted to make an impact in my community.”
BASKETBALL ROYALTY RETURNS TO ROCHELLE
Dawson hails from Kinston basketball’s royal family, which includes Jerry Stackhouse, Craig Dawson, Tony Dawson, Thomas Dawson and Greg Dawson, among many others. Following a sterling career at Kinston High School – winning three titles in his four years on the varsity (2010, 2012, 2013), he played at Fayetteville State University, where he established himself as one of the best point guards in that program’s proud history.
He had opportunities to play overseas or even try to work his way up the chain in professional basketball in America. However, the chance to help children in his hometown and to be closer to his mother (Litisha Dawson) and sister (Kyshema Dawson) brought him back to Kinston.
After finishing his degree in sociology at FSU and talking to his mother, he approached Rochelle Principal Rochelle Principal Felicia Solomon about becoming the Junior Vikings’ head coach.
Solomon was ecstatic when she found out Dawson wanted to become a coach at her school.
“I knew I needed him here,” she said. “I’ve got young men who need him. And since he’s come here, you can tell the squad loves him – and he loves them.”
Solomon paired Dawson with John Jones – a local legend in his own right who has coached thousands of Kinston youth in basketball and football since 1973.
“I knew Josh was the right man and the right coach to lead our young men,” Solomon said. “I knew he had the right heart and the right commitment to give these boys 110 percent. But to help Josh succeed, I knew having a man like Coach Jones – who is so seasoned, who is so wise – as his assistant coach would be incredible for everyone involved.”
Jones, who has coached nearly every legend that has played any sport in Lenoir County in the past 46 years, was Dawson’s coach in recreational basketball and football. The veteran coach said he is enjoying mentoring Dawson.
“He’s always been a competitor because of who his family was,” said Jones, who was a football star at Adkin High School and later at Fayetteville State. “Josh has a very supportive family and the kids love him because he is a champion. They know if they want to win, they need to follow him.”
Lenoir County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II was Dawson’s principal at Rochelle. Harvey said it warmed his heart to see one of his former students not just as a coach, but as a teacher at Northeast.
“The leadership skills you see today, he had them then – not just on the court, but in the classroom and in the halls of the school,” Harvey recalled. “He was a natural leader and has grown into the leader he is today.”
‘THEY TAUGHT ME THAT EVERY DAY COUNTS’
Dawson credits the coaches he had along his path – Hubert Quinerly at Rochelle, Wells Gulledge and Perry Tyndall at Kinston and Alphonza Kee and Ken Spencer at FSU – for his success.
“They taught me that every day counts,” he said. “There are days you don’t want to work, but you have to work hard all the time. They also taught me that little things matter – if you can’t make layups, you don’t need to be shooting jump shots.
“I also learned from them that the classroom is important; if you’re not going to work hard in the classroom, you’re not going to tell me you’re going to work hard in the gym.”
Gulledge, in his second season as the head coach at Wilmington Ashley after three seasons at Arendell Parrott Academy, was Dawson’s head coach for the point guard’s first three seasons at Kinston. Gulledge said Dawson’s will to win is unmatched in his 20 seasons as a coach.
“He made the Kinston locker room special,” Gulledge said. “He never dogged it, in practice or in a game. He always left everything on the floor.”
Gulledge recalled a moment before Dawson’s sophomore season at Kinston when he saw the youngster peeking through a window that led to the gymnasium. The floor of the gym had just had its annual resurfacing and Dawson was anxious to get on the court.
“We covered that window but Josh had his nose pushed against the corner of the window trying to look at the court,” Gulledge recalled with a laugh. “I yelled down to him, ‘What you doing, son?’ He said, ‘Coach, I’m just smelling the wood.’
“He loved basketball so much he couldn’t wait to get back on the court. Every team needs a guy like that.”
Tyndall was Gulledge’s assistant coach until Gulledge temporarily left the coaching profession following the 2012 season. As a former KHS point guard himself, Tyndall worked closely with Dawson all four seasons.
“As a player, Josh was essentially a coach for us as our point guard,” Tyndall said. “With his family’s pedigree, he had a lot of knowledge and you can’t put a price on that.”
REFUSE TO LOSE
When Dawson was at Kinston High and later at FSU, he developed a reputation as a hard-nosed, competitive, no-nonsense player who hated losing.
“I learned early to hate losing,” Dawson said. “Losers don’t get recognized. In Kinston, losers fail. If you lose in Kinston, you either die or go to jail.”
Tyndall said if he was picking a team of Kinston players and had to play a five-on-five game, the first player he’d choose would be Dawson.
“I know how bad he wants to win,” Tyndall said. “At the end of the day, you want someone who wants to win. He was fiery, but he played with emotion and channeled it the right way. I’d rather have a player with emotion than someone who has talent but doesn’t have emotion.”
Dawson sacrificed his own scoring to become the consummate point guard that spread the ball around. The result was three championship rings in four years.
“It’s a great thing when your best player is your most unselfish player,” Gulledge said. “Josh could’ve put up big numbers and averaged 25 points a game. When you have an unselfish player like Josh, though, you’re able to do things that are very, very special as a team.”
Dawson is now using all the traits he exhibited as a player on the sideline as a coach. However, he admitted he’s still learning.
“I’ve learned to have more fun with the game,” he said with a smile. “I’m teaching my kids to have fun; to me, it’s the most important thing. They also know I love them – I don’t want them to ever think I don’t love them. I love them and I know they love me.
“I’ve also had to learn some patience. I know not all kids are at the same level – I’m blessed to be teaching them the game. Certain players learn at different speeds.”
Channeling his unparalleled passion to coaching has been a process. He said he makes practices extra hard so when game time comes, they’re ready.
“I drill them extra hard at practice – I take them through war,” Dawson said. “I don’t give them anything easy so when the game comes, there’s nothing they haven’t seen.”
In the annals of Kinston basketball history, Dawson is one of the few players who has been on the varsity squad all four years. He played with two of those players in that select club – Reggie Bullock his freshman season (2009-10) when the future UNC Tar Heel and NBA star was a senior and Brandon Ingram for the Duke and L.A. Lakers’ freshmen and sophomore seasons (2011-12 and 2012-13).
As a point guard, though, he said he learned more lessons from Dory Hines, who graduated in 2010 with Bullock and is now the head coach of the Arendell Parrott Academy boys’ varsity program.
“We competed every single day,” Dawson said of Hines, putting extra emphasis on the last three words. “He taught me how to be a young man. He taught me how to lead and how to push. I respect Dory to this day – we talk every single day, seven days a week. He means more to me than he’ll ever realize.”
NEED TO SUCCEED
Dawson’s need to succeed started at Rochelle, grew at Kinston High and then on to Fayetteville State. Now, he’s happily using all those lessons to help turn young men into winners at Rochelle.
“I will push them to help them get to their dreams,” Dawson said. “All I want to do is help them succeed. My drive is to impact these young people in Kinston.”
One of the main missions of Lenoir County Public Schools is to groom current students in the system to become future leaders in LCPS. Harvey said Dawson’s passion and his drive are a prime example of that mission.
“We are extremely proud of all our LCPS graduates who are back in the system – there are hundreds,” Harvey said. “It means a lot, because this is a strong community. … We have strong leaders in every one of our schools that have come back like Josh has. They’re paying it forward and our entire administration is proud of all of them.”
As his first season as a head coach winds down, where does Dawson see himself in 10 years?
“Wherever I’ll be, it’ll all be in God’s time,” he said. “I just want to take it step by step; I’m in no rush because I love it here at Rochelle. I wanted to start here, make an impact here and help kids develop a drive.
“But I’d love to be a college coach one day and eventually, even an NBA coach. If it takes five, 10 or 20 years, I’m good with it. I know I need to take small steps and learn everything I need to learn here so when I get to the higher level, I’ll know what to do.”