University of Missouri

Ex-Mizzou star Keyon Dooling finds purpose in work with NBA Players Association

Keyon Dooling while at Mizzou in 2000.
Keyon Dooling while at Mizzou in 2000.

While on the campus of the University of Virginia, Keyon Dooling couldn’t help smiling. When a player hit his third jumper in a row, the loudest cheer in the gym came from Dooling.

Basketball games were going on three courts simultaneously inside John Paul Jones Arena with many of the nation’s top high school prospects in town for the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp this week. Dooling, the former Missouri star who went to work full time for the NBAPA after his 13-year pro career ended in 2013, especially enjoyed this part of the job: getting to help young players in the same position he once found himself.

“The first time I heard about the Top 100 Camp was 1997, when I got my invitation,” Dooling said. “I did really well, made a name for myself here.”

He went on to enjoy a great career at Mizzou, averaging 15.3 points and 3.6 assists in the1999-2000 season, before leaving school and becoming the 10th pick in the NBA Draft.

But life hasn’t always been happy for Dooling, who last month told The Players’ Tribune about sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

It was a trauma he carried with him for decades before checking himself into a psychiatric hospital in 2012.

“The tipping point was when I had my breakdown,” Dooling said in that Players’ Tribune interview. “Then the thing that was most detrimental to my life became the most empowering. It’s really given me that purpose and passion in my post-career.”

As a player program rep for the union, part of his job is to manage the Parent Program at the Top 100 Camp, and his own experiences are a reason why he finds the work so fulfilling.

“I just want to be able to help players and parents be able to avoid the dangers that are out there,” Dooling said.

Though these players are older than he was when he became a victim of abuse, he knows there are still plenty of traps for them to avoid, and plenty of people who don’t always have their best interest at heart.

“They have sessions and know how to address these kids so they pay attention,” said Stephanie Thompson, whose son, Race Thompson is a power forward from Minnesota and in the camp for the first time.

“It’s different than the other camps Race has been to in that way. They talked to them about drugs and those things, but also about finding your team. Not on the court, but five people off the court you know you can count on.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey is in Charlottesville with his son Patrick, a camper. He’s going through the parent program for the second year and says the parent program helps set it apart from other events for high-level recruits.

“Keyon really does such a terrific job with this,” McCaffrey said. “He has a tremendous personality and is very professional. All the speakers have a different message and the parent program is unique in the sense that it is trying to get the parents ready for recruiting and the pressures. Keyon always greets you with a smile and makes you feel comfortable.”

And for Dooling, who has written a book entitled “What’s Driving You? How I Overcame Abuse and Learned to Lead in the NBA,” continuing to put those leadership skills to use is part of his own healing precess.

“Working with the PA,” he said. “It’s in alignment with my passions, my mission. My mission is to help people heal. To guide them and help them learn from my experiences so they might not have to go through some of the things I went through, so they can find success without some of the obstacles.”