University of Kansas

How Devon Dotson turned criticism into growth — with help from a second-half epiphany

Bill Self on the play of Ochai Agbaji: ‘He was great’

Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self talks about freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who shined in his debut in a win over TCU on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2018.
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Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self talks about freshman guard Ochai Agbaji, who shined in his debut in a win over TCU on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2018.

It’s a good time to go back. Rewatch a bit.

Without that, it’s easy to miss the development that took place from freshman guard Devon Dotson in Kansas’ 77-68 victory over TCU — and also the instruction from coach Bill Self it took to get him there.

This had been a rough week for Dotson already. Following KU’s loss Saturday to Iowa State, he’d been challenged in practice frequently by Self, who urged him to bring more leadership for a team that needs it.

“He’s just been talking about me talking more, understanding the game more,” Dotson said.

It’s still difficult at times. A point guard is supposed to be an extension of the coach on the floor, but how can that happen when the two minds are not aligned after just a few months together?

That process — the learning and growth — played out in a three acts on Wednesday night.

16:32 remaining, second half

Dedric Lawson and Dotson are roommates — it allows a lot of time to talk hoops — and Lawson likes to emphasize one thing often: His buddy’s game is in transition.

Dotson is quick and athletic, with a knack for scoring when he’s able to extend for layups against unset defenses.

There are times he can force things, though. And this is one of those moments.

Ochai Agbaji comes away with a steal, giving life to the Allen Fieldhouse crowd and providing an opportunity for a momentum-building play.

Dotson is too aggressive, however. He forces it inside while going 1-on-2, which leads to an errant pass and a turnover.

Self’s words — he later called it a “bonehead play” — are clear from the sideline. “Good job, Och. Come on, Devon!”

10:57 remaining, second half

All right, message received. Look for the simple play.

Dotson is obviously thinking about this on an upcoming transition opportunity. Following a Marcus Garrett steal, he races down the court and drops a bounce pass for K.J. Lawson, who is fouled on the shot.

Self, a few steps away, is furious again. The correct play here was the lob. Agbaji was wide open on the other side of the rim for an uncontested slam.

“I’m going, ‘What are you doing?,” Self said, “And he said, ‘You told me to be safe.’”

Dotson takes in the criticism and reflects: OK, don’t force the action, but also take easy shots when they’re given.

“It’s a process, just knowing what he wants at certain times,” Dotson said.

It all led to a revelation some two minutes later.

8:40 remaining, second half

Lawson comes away with a steal, and after a few dribbles, he pitches ahead to Dotson on the wing.

This is the situation the roommates have talked about. Lawson has told Dotson to drive here. Use your skills. Get to the basket.

Something else is more important though — a lesson learned earlier in the half.

“I knew we just got a key stop,” Dotson said, “and I wanted to get a great shot.”

Dotson raised his hand to settle teammates, then backed it out. Lawson had scored the game’s last four points, so Dotson looked to him first.

Wise move. Lawson dribbled, spun, then put in a short two, leading to an eight-point lead and TCU timeout.

Self pumped his fists emphatically, but not for Lawson; he was pleased with Dotson instead.

“Good play,” Self roared from the bench.

There were other important sequences down the stretch. Dotson hustled to loose balls that KU hadn’t gotten in previous games. He came away with a heads-up steal with just over a minute left that helped seal the game and also blocked a shot late, too competitive to leave his man when the situation called for a switch.

“He made a couple winning plays,” Self said.

Most importantly, though, Dotson grew. He missed all six field-goal attempts and battled foul trouble early, yet he still came a lot closer to the vision of what Self wants in his point guard.

The breakthrough wasn’t immediate ... but did come on the third try.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.

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