Johnny Dawkins sits back in his chair and smiles when asked about the challenges that lie ahead of him as the new men's basketball coach at UCF.
The former Duke University All-American and Stanford men’s basketball coach has not been at UCF long, but there are a few things he already knows.
"If you look at the coaches and players in this conference, it is one of the best in the country. You can say this conference is a Power Five or this conference is that, bottom line is the American Athletic is a great conference that can stand with any conference," Dawkins said during the Charge On Tour that made a stop at Coconuts on the Beach in Cocoa Beach last week. "The coaches are Hall of Famers, national champions, great players. You have everything in this conference and that is why I am excited about being here."
UCF was just as excited about him when they realized they had a chance to add him to the coaching staff, and why not? Dawkins led Stanford to a 156-115 record overall and 66-78 in the Pac-12 in eight seasons.
"He comes from an awful lot of credibility," UCF Athletics Director Danny White said. "I admire the job he did at Stanford; it is a tough job, really stringent academic standards, taken them to the Sweet 16 and play the kinds of teams he played. They have one of the toughest schedules every single year. He is a competitor and we are glad he is here."
It is that competitive side of Dawkins that has fans excited, as he expects to come right in and be competitive not only in the conference but in all of Division I basketball.
"We want to go out there and be competitive right away, that is our goal and I am going to challenge the guys in that regard," Dawkins said. "We will make sure that they understand with me as coach here that we will always have the highest of expectations. Period. We have to prepare that way every year."
It will be a tough task as UCF went 12-18 last season and has won just 15 of 40 AAC games in the last three seasons. That is all in the past, and Dawkins feels he has some of the pieces to make that transition really easy with A.J. Davis coming off a nice season in which he averaged 12 points and led the team with 180 rebounds and also had 88 assists while starting all 30 games. Dawkins also expects B.J. Taylor to be back after missing all of last season with a lower leg injury.
But one of the big keys for Dawkins is the growth of sophomore center Tacko Fall, who stands at 7-foot-6.
"We have to get better in a lot of areas, we have to be better in how we utilize Tacko, and that is on both ends of the floor. What he does will be important for us," Dawkins said. "We have to continue to upgrade our talent and that is going to be our recruiting. This area has a lot of good players and we just have to find the right ones to bring in that fit our style of play. We have to have a good depth of talent."
Although he has been in town for just six weeks, he has already started recruiting and installing the kind of basketball he wants to run at UCF.
"Defensively, you want to get after it, but I want to push the ball offensively. The guards have to be able to get out and run," Dawkins said. "It is a process and it takes hard work. There is no short cut to success. We are going to be a team that is going to grind. We are going to work hard.
"It's going to be a process for us, we have to work every day at getting better and I think if we do that, then we will move in the right direction and can accomplish our goals."