One on one with Sean Dockery

He will always be remembered for the half court shot against Virginia Tech, but there’s so much more to Sean Dockery’s career in Durham. We sat down with the Chicago area point guard to discuss his recruitment, career, and what he’s up to these days.

Starting out Sean, first, thank you for making the time for the interview—we appreciate you being a part of this series where we’re taking a look back at former Duke players and their Duke and professional careers. Knowing that you keep up with the team, what are your thoughts on this year’s Duke team?

Sean Dockery: I love it, I love the way guys play, I love the unity and it’s a fun group. I love the way Coach is coaching them as well. He’s letting the guys play and run and kinda letting them learn while they are playing. It’s been fun, they are fun to watch.

For Duke fans Sean, can you share what you have been doing professionally lately in your career?

Well, professionally I have a non-profit organization and I’m training kids from the ages of five through 18. Basically I do a little personal training as well and while I’m not playing the game professionally, I’m still in the game with what I’m doing, I’m still close to the game.

What was the spark for that career path?

It’s something I always wanted to do, I always said that when I was done playing basketball that I wanted to do something like this, especially in the community where I’m from. If you know anything about my past and where I’m from, I’m basically from the inner city in probably one of the worst parts of Chicago and I always knew that one of the reasons why I was fortunate to make it was because of a program that I was in when I was a kid called Small Fry. There were some guys who really cared about the kids, so I knew when I was done playing that I was going to do the same thing that they did because I knew how much it changed my life and I knew that I wanted to change kids lives in Chicago.

How many kids are you working with now through your organization?

There’s sessions almost every day if not every day, and there can be anywhere around 25 to 30 kids in one session. It varies. I’m teaching them how to be a basketball fan on and off the court in terms of off the court how to carry yourself like a man. So that means school first and respecting your elders, respecting yourself as well.

On the court I teach them how to be a basketball player, how to be a student of the game. When I got to Duke I was kinda behind because in Chicago, all you were taught to do was run up and down the court and just play, just play basketball, you really don’t learn the game. So with these kids in my program, I’m teaching them the game and how to play it at an early age so now when these guys get to college, they will be ready. Like when I was there at Duke, I was like with JJ, this guy knows how to handle a scouting report. When I was in high school, we didn’t do anything like that.

What for you really motivated you doing this in Chicago when it sounds like you could take this anywhere and do it in places all over if you wanted to?

It’s where I’m from, this is hometown and I just couldn’t see myself starting anywhere else. Eventually I may branch out and do it all around the world, but I knew my start was going to be in Chicago because that’s where I’m from and it just touches home more.

What does it mean to you and your family to see you giving back to the community where you grew up in this way?

People love it, I love it, but I always hear people thanking me who understand that I could do this anywhere but they understand the reasons why I do it here in Chicago and why I’m really doing it. Most guys who have professional careers like myself really just branch out into more suburban areas and do it for the money because you can get a lot more money going into those areas. People understand that where I’m doing it, I’m really doing it for these kids even though by far they are in some of the worst places to live in this area. They know I’m not doing it for the money.

Chicago is widely regarded as one of the best places for basketball in the country with guys like Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Derrick Rose and many others—what does it mean to you that you are considered to be a part of that legacy of good basketball players who came from the city?

It’s great. I was just watching Jahlil Okafor and him playing, it’s just something seeing him play because at a young age, playing AAU ball, you just know that because you are from Chicago, you have to rep it well and being a part of that is unbelievable and it’s a great achievement and it’s great that I’m a part of that when I played basketball.

With you and Coach K both being Chicago guys, how much if any did that inform how he related to you during the recruiting process?

Honestly I think that was a lot to do with it but it was a lot with Chris Collins because he’s from there as well and he’s who recruited me quite a bit. After Coach K came to Chicago and visited me, it was a no-brainer. I think being from Chicago had a lot to do with him recruiting me.

Let’s go back to your recruitment by Duke Sean—I remember that they made you a big priority among point guards in your class, do you remember much of what the communication was like with Duke during the recruiting process?

The thing with Duke and recruiting is I always tell the story is the thing with them recruiting me is they really, truly believed in me right from the start. If you know the background from where I’m from, I went to Julian High School and education just wasn’t a real key there, it wasn’t the main focus there. I didn’t pass the ACT yet before going into Duke because I took it only one time and I didn’t have the score that could qualify me for Duke at that point. I remember Coach K telling me that he believed in me and that I was going to pass it, so that experience right there it just made me realize that this guy, they really believe in me and that was the main reason why I committed there and why I committed in my junior year after he told me that I was going to pass it and we just went from there.

How long did Duke recruit you before you decided to offer the verbal commitment?

I think they were recruiting me for awhile, since my freshman year. They just wanted to see how I progressed and they wanted to see if I basically was going to keep doing the things I was doing academically and on the court in high school. I know they got serious with me at the end of my sophomore year and the beginning of my junior year, that’s when it got really serious with their interest.

If memory serves me you were featured on a TV show called Chicago High School Preps or something along those lines where they followed guys like you and Eddy Curry and a few other Chicago player during your recruiting processes, am I remembering that right?

Yeah and I think that was a thing that really helped me a lot, if I didn’t have that tv show, I don’t know if they would have been able to really see my personality. I know that helped out a lot because they could see me on tv and they could really get to see what kind of kid you are.  It was me, Eddy Curry, Will Bynum and a few other guys. People still talk about it to this day, it was a great experience to be a part of. I don’t even remember how it came up, all I remember is my high school coach told me that there’s this show we’re going to do with Fox Sports and I was like ok, here we go. They said they were going to follow me around for the show which at first I thought that was really weird because at first I felt like it put me in awkward moments and if you know me, you know I’m a low key, shy guy. It will be something I never forget though, it panned out very well.

What kind of feedback were the Duke coaches giving you as they were learning more about you as a person and the relationship was growing?

Duke does everything super legit. The talks were great whenever they could talk to me. I remember Collins talking to me after he had to a game or a practice of mine and he was just talking about how badly they wanted me at Duke and how I could fit in at Duke. There were people saying that I wasn’t a Duke kid and that I wouldn’t fit in because I’m from the inner city of Chicago, I played city ball but Coach Collins always reassured me that I’m a Duke kid and I would be fine there.

What did that mean to you to hear that direct from the coaching staff?

It was just another reminder for sure to me that these people believe in me and they want me to succeed, which that’s all you really want as a young kid is to hear Coach K telling you that he believes in you. I remember telling myself at that point that there’s no way for me not to go there, like I’d be a fool not to go there and commit to this school because this man is amazing at what he does.

Once you committed to Duke, what was your reaction to being finished with recruiting?

It was good, it was huge, dream come true. I wanted to go to Duke since I was like five or six years old. I remember when I was five walking around thinking about playing like Bobby Hurley, so it was really good and kinda surreal being that I was from the inner city of Chicago and nobody thought that Duke would ever recruit a kid like myself, so it was real good.

So once you got to Duke, what was the adjustment like for you?

It was tough, it was tough for sure. I come from Julian High School which is like 99.9% black, African-American and that’s the only thing I’ve ever known growing up. So when I got to Duke and it’s like 8-9% African-American, it was  change and it was tough. I remember the first couple of months I would cry to my mom back home and told her that I wanted to come home because people didn’t understand me and I don’t understand them, so it was very tough.

Then you get on the court and you are playing against guys like Chris Duhon, Daniel Ewing and others and you literally have to fight all the time. Then after practice I’m lacking because the way I was studying for school and trying to fit in, it was tough, the whole transition was very tough.

So what did you and other people at Duke do to help you get comfortable—on and off the court?

I remember talking to Coach K one day, I don’t think he probably even remembers this, but this was kinda like my breakthrough moment there. He just told me to be myself, you don’t have to do anything other than just be yourself, you don’t have to change for anybody and everybody will love you if you just be yourself. So that’s what I did and if they don’t accept me, I figured that’s their loss and after that, it didn’t matter to me if people were Black, White, Asian, whatever, it was all fine.

What helped you get comfortable in your transition from high school player to Duke basketball player?

Johnny Dawkins was a guy who helped me with my career a lot and he was the one who told me to put in the work and I would be fine. After awhile I was like hey, these guys on the court walk and play just like me, on and off the court. And it had a lot to do with the way I was playing was how comfortable I was getting off the court and the way I was communicating with other people because I was kid who had confidence in himself and when I walked around campus, I felt better about myself.

Who did you grow close with relationship wise at Duke?

Shavlik Randolph and I got really close which I loved. Shav is a guy who was like a brother to me just like all the guys were, but with Shav, even to this day, we’re like brothers. It was the first time I ever had a real friendship and relationship with a guy outside of my race, both of us were going through struggles off and on the court, so we were both adjusting at the same time and we built a friendship from that.

Shav said some of the same things about you that you just said about him when I interviewed him for the series over a week ago…

That’s crazy, yeah, he’s just a great friend.

Shav talked about playing with JJ and what that was like for him as a post player—for you Sean, what was it like playing in the backcourt with a guy like JJ?

JJ was amazing, pure and simple. I tell people all the time that JJ was one of the best with his work ethic and he just wanted to win. To this day, he instilled in me a lot just from watching him, watching him workout, keep going and keep working out. I never told him that but he was one guy that even to this day, when I wake up, I’m hungry to win and succeed because he always was that way and he was always going at it. I would go at it with him because that’s how he was, he had such a passion and no matter what was going on, he still came in the gym and always gave over a 100%. He’d always get in to put up shots, even on days when we may have been going out or whatever, he’d be getting in the gym, putting in work. Me and Shavlik would be like “Lets go somewhere and have fun”, but JJ was always in the gym.

How did you relationship grow and change with Coach K over your four years at Duke?

First year, I used to think Coach K hated me (haha). I’ve learned that every year he was teaching me more and more, especially in how to be a man because he knew I had it in me. Because of that, I think every year our relationship grew more and more and to this day, it’s still building, even to this day. He’s still a person I look up to and I know he’s a person I can call anytime and if I need anything, he’ll be there. I think that’s why he is by far the best coach ever, because he still has those relationships with his guys. Just the other day I went to my mom’s house and I had received a birthday card from him and I’m saying to myself, this guy is about to make history and he sent me, little ol’ Sean in the Windy City a birthday card, he just means a lot to me.

A lot of guys in this series have shared memorable experiences or things said to them by Coach K that has stuck with them through the years. Any examples of that for you Sean?

I remember one day, I think my senior year, he asked me how can we believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself? That to this day sticks with me because it’s the truth, if you don’t even believe in yourself, how will anybody else be able to believe in, you know?

After that he told me, “you are a great player and if you need to shoot the ball, shoot the ball”, and he really built my confidence up so high. Then I think the next day after that was the game that I hit the shot against Virginia Tech. It’s something, I told him after that thank you for building my confidence up.

That’s pretty good timing with that shot being right round there.

Yeah, it really was. That’s how good he is though. When he tells you that you can do something, you just know that you can and you believe him. After he told me that I told myself that I’m going to make every shot which I actually almost did that game and I was just on fire because I had confidence. Even though that particular play wasn’t for me, I still felt after I let it go that it was going to hit.

Take me back to that game and the play Sean, what do you remember just from the experience of making that shot and the game in general?

Yeah I definitely remember it. I remember making a foul while playing good D and the foul shots put them up and I was down a bit…I thought I messed the whole game up. Then the guy hit one and missed one and they fouled Shelden. Shelden hit the free throw and then another Virginia Tech guy came down and scored off a tip. So I’m feeling like I messed things up but then we’re in the huddle and Coach K setup a play, it was for Shelden, he was gonna do like a Christian Laettner type shot where we were going to throw it to the middle, try to get a shot in the middle, just like where Christian Laettner made his shot. I was like alright but then something wrong was going on with the clock, so we were waiting and while we were waiting, I told Coach Dawkins, I’m wide open, like nobody is guarding me because they are guarding Shelden and JJ and Dawkins looked at me and said alright, go close it man if you need to. I remember thinking then, I’m going to hit this shot and I told Josh to throw me the ball and then he threw me the ball and I caught it and let it go and it hit. That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my life.

You and Shelden are widely regarded as two of the better defenders at Duke ever, can you shed some light on what your defensive approach was as a player?

It’s a funny story in high school, I led the state in steals but I really kinda hated defense. But I knew at Duke, to get on that court, you got several McDonald’s All Americans who are trying to play, so the way to get on that court is to play defense. When I got on that court, I knew if I wanted real playing time, I knew I had to guard this man and that’s how I started off. Then I noticed as time went on, I could really guard guys and people couldn’t score on me, and that’s when it got really fun for me.

What kind of tutelage did you get from the coaches that helped you improve as much as you did from a defensive standpoint your four years at Duke?

More confidence really, after awhile I just knew I could play Duke defense and I knew people were scared of playing me when I guarded them. It was more confidence than anything as I knew I could guard the ball better and also I had a better basketball IQ for the game of basketball as I grew. I knew from scouting where guys wanted to go, what their habits were. I got smarter as my career went on.

Thinking back on your Duke career Sean—what are your take-aways from your experience there?

It’s something that I still think about to this day. It was great and I learned going to Duke made me the man I am today. It was a great education and it also taught me how to express my feelings and also how to be myself and learn and understand that people are going to like you if you just be yourself and it just led me out into the world not as a shy kid, but I have more confidence in life and I know the truth to life from being there.

How did Duke prepare you for what you are doing now with your life?

Without Duke I wouldn’t be able to give the knowledge that I give to my kids now. Also, I think it would be harder to be doing what I’m trying to do now if it wasn’t for Duke and the lessons I learned there. Now I can say that hey, “I’m Sean Dockery and I played at Duke”, and kids listen to me because of that and they believe in me and they are ready to listen to me because they know that this guy knows what he is talking about. I know it has changed a lot of lives when I share with them things that I learned at Duke.

Are you still close with a lot of former Duke teammates or other Duke players you have come to know through the program?

Yeah, I still talk with Shelden, I still talk with Dahntay Jones, and I talk with Chris Duhon too, he’s like a big brother to me. Reggie Love, everybody on my team’s, we all gather around from all around the USA and we’re brothers for life because of the memories we have from being there together.

In wrapping up, with Coach K about to hit a 1000 wins here soon potentially—what does it mean to you to have been a part of a good chunk of those wins?

It’s great, it’s an amazing feeling when you know someone is making history and you know that somehow, someway you have been a part of that. It’s great and also, no better person deserves it. He works hard and everything he has he deserves it because he’s earned it. I’ll be happy for him when he achieves it and I hope no one else breaks it (haha). I’m proud of him, people don’t understand that, like how are you proud of Coach K, but I’m just so proud of him and when you love someone like I love him, you are always proud of them when they are able to achieve something great.

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