Niki Dawkins (right), a longtime friend and colleague of VCU Coach Marlene Stollings, will serve as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Rams.

By Michael Schuster

As first year VCU Women’s Basketball Head Coach Marlene Stollings familiarizes herself with a new school, team and city, she can take solace in the knowledge that there will be one familiar face on the bench in assistant Niki Dawkins.

For eight seasons, Dawkins served as a top assistant under renowned Old Dominion Coach Wendy Larry. While Dawkins’ was a member of ODU’s coaching staff the Lady Monarchs were a dominant force in the Colonial Athletic Association, posting a 158-67 record, including 105-21 in league play.

Dawkins helped ODU to four CAA Tournament titles and a 2008 Sweet 16 appearance, and she hopes to bring that same winning mentality with her to VCU, which finished 19-15 last season. Dawkins has coached five WNBA players, 15 All-CAA honorees, five CAA All-Defensive Team selections and has been outstanding on the recruiting trail, signing some of the nation’s best.

As top assistant and recruiting coordinator for the Rams, Dawkins’ nose for talent will be valuable for VCU as it moves into the nationally-recognized Atlantic 10 Conference. High character, the athleticism to run the floor and an ability to score the basketball will be some of the most important qualities Dawkins will look for in recruiting.

“Coach [Stollings] and I love offensive players. We are going to be looking for gunners, and high-powered, versatile athletes. If you can put the ball in basket, you have a spot on the VCU Women’s Basketball team,” Dawkins said.

Dawkins was an assistant coach at Ohio State during Stollings’ two seasons as a player at the Columbus, Ohio school from 1993-95, and served as a mentor for the future VCU coach. Stollings was later an assistant coach on Dawkins’ staff at New Mexico State. The two women bonded over a shared passion for the game and a drive to win. It’s helped them remain close over the years.

Stollings believes Dawkins will immediately provide exceptional leadership, basketball experience and a vast knowledge of player growth and development both on and off the court – which could pay dividends for a young VCU squad this season.

Stollings, in her first season, says Dawkins’ insight “will be invaluable”, to VCU.

Hawkins served as head coach at Detroit Mercy from 1996-99 and New Mexico State from 2001-02 and has been an assistant coach at Michigan, Texas Tech, Ohio State and ODU. She knows what it takes to build a winning program and will look to be a mentor, leader and strategist to mold a VCU team full of unknown commodities.

“Her [Dawkins] insight will be invaluable. She has 20 years of experience, and her knowledge of the game is incredible,” Stollings said. “The comfort level is definitely there, and having a rapport with someone you’ve known so long will help aid the program to where we want it much faster.”

Dawkins enjoyed an illustrious playing career at Ohio State from 1985-89, where she was named a Kodak and Street & Smith All-American and helped the Buckeyes to four NCAA Tournaments. She was later inducted into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame and was named to the Buckeyes’ All-Century team. She later played professionally in Italy.

She was also a member of two USA Select teams (1988, 1990), the 1989 World University Games team and the USA Junior National Team in 1987. Dawkins also served as an assistant for the United States’ 20-and-Under team in 2002 and has been a part of four world championships.

Her vast experience should serve her well at VCU, but Dawkins believes she can become an even better coach in the future.

“Every coach knows they don’t know everything, and there’s always more to learn and improve on as a player and a coach,” Dawkins said. “I aspire to helping these girls grow and reach their goals. When I stop learning, it’s time to get out of the business.”

As the season approaches, Dawkins will be a continued source of guidance for VCU, which graduated leading scorers Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour. Dawkins’ eye for spotting talent, as well as her familiarity with Stollings’ up-tempo system will allow her to make an immediate impact.

The Rams begin their first season under Stollings Nov. 12 at Elon.