Jan. 30, 2014
CARBONDALE, Ill. - After winning the 2013 Division II juco national championship at Rend Lake College, Dawson Verhines figured he'd never again team up with his older brother, Bronson. The two had played basketball together since childhood, nearly won a state championship in high school, and the national title seemed like a perfect way to cap their careers together.
Then Southern Illinois, in search of a front court player, called Bronson last spring. The 6-foot-6 forward had one year of eligibility remaining. He brought Dawson along to scrimmage with the team, and SIU head coach Barry Hinson actually offered Dawson a walk-on slot a week before granting Bronson a scholarship offer.
"When Southern called Bronson, we were ecstatic because we never even dreamed that we could make it here," said Dawson, who turned down Division II scholarship offers from McKendree and Missouri Southern to walk-on for the Salukis.
Dawson has far exceeded the expectations for a typical walk-on. He's played in all 22 games and made two starts. He recalled being discouraged after not getting any minutes in the two exhibition games, but then he suddenly found himself on the floor in the opener against Missouri and even knocked down a 3-point shot.
"I was as surprised as anybody when I got in," he said. "Coach Hinson threw me in there with five minutes to go in the first half and it's one of the most scared I've ever been."
Although he averages only 1.4 points per game, he has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team (3.20) with 16 assists and five turnovers on the season.
"I know I'm not as talented or as athletic as a lot of my teammates, but I can work hard," he said. "Coach doesn't look at me as just a walk-on. If you hustle and work as hard as you can, he's going to give you an opportunity."
"People told me if you go to a bigger school, you'll get more college looks, but I just feel like if you're good enough to play, schools are going to find you," he said.
His high school coach encouraged him to play baseball in college, and that was the original plan until Rend Lake's coach told him he would only be on half scholarship.
"I had it set in mind that I wanted to have all my school paid for, so I talked to the basketball coach, Randy House, and he said he'd pay whatever baseball doesn't," Dawson explained.
So during his freshman year, Dawson played both sports, an experience he found exhausting.
"There was a span there for a month where I was going to basketball for two hours, and then I'd hustle over to baseball and finish the last hour and half of practice there, then go home and try to find some energy to do homework," he said.
When Bronson decided to play basketball at Rend Lake the next year, Dawson gave up baseball.
"We went 14-2 in the conference and we were the only Division II team in our league," Dawson said. "When we won that, it kind of opened our eyes that man, we could win this (national tournament)."
Dawson, who scored four points in SIU's upset win over Indiana State last night, said he has no regrets about passing up a scholarship offer to be a walk-on for Southern.
"I didn't think I'd ever get a chance to play with Bronson again," he said. "And I didn't want to pass up an opportunity to play DI basketball at my dream school."