On March 12, Devon Dotson and Jalen Wilson were eating in silence at a Freddy’s in Lawrence, Kansas, when they learned the NCAA tournament would be canceled for the first time since 1938 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Kansas Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the nation and had won 16 games in a row. Dotson was the leading scorer in the Big 12 and the entire team was ready to make a run to the Final Four in Atlanta.
“It was going to be tough for any team to beat us just with the amount of confidence we had and depth on the team,” Dotson told Yahoo Sports. “I knew we would be there in the end and it was really hard for all of us to have the season just end like that.”
A year ago, Dotson had just finished his freshman year and was testing the NBA waters. He received an invite to the NBA rookie combine in Chicago and was able to get some good feedback from teams.
“They wanted to see me create more separation when I shoot and develop my outside shot a little more,” Dotson said. “I knew it was something I had to work on, and I was going to work as hard as I could to improve that part of my game.”
Before the season even started, assistant coach Kurtis Townsend saw a difference in Dotson. Dotson would stay late after practice and track down anyone on the coaching staff to get some extra shots up.
“He would hunt me down all the time and always ask, ‘Hey coach, when can we go? Can we get in the gym?’” Townsend recalled. “There were guard practices where we would get around 400 shots up and he would ask me to stay after to work on creating separation off the dribble or reading defense on pick-and-roll situations.”
Dotson led the Big 12 in scoring and steals this past season, averaging 18.1 points and 2.1 steals per game. He had a season-high 29 points — including hitting 6-of-8 from 3-point range — in a win over Iowa State and was one of the best pick-and-roll passers in college basketball this year.
The Kansas point guard has shown improvement in almost every statline from his freshman to sophomore year but is still a projected second-round pick in early mock drafts. Listed at 6-foot-2, Dotson is one of the smaller guards in this year’s draft class but something has to be said for leading Kansas to one of its best seasons since the Jayhawks won the national championship in 2008.
“I feel like I can play with any guard in this draft and my work this year can back that up,” Dotson told Yahoo Sports. “I think I’m flying a little bit under the radar but that’s been the case my whole career and I’m just going to put my head down and keep putting the work in to get better.”
Jeff McInnis played 13 years in the NBA and was Dotson’s AAU coach growing up. He got a front-row seat to watch Dotson’s speed at a young age when McInnis’ junior varsity team lost to Dotson’s club when he was an eighth grader.
“That was my only loss of the season,” McGinnis told Yahoo Sports. “I was so impressed with Devon and the way he controlled the game at such a young age. I told his dad after the game that Devon had to come play for me.”
McInnis watched from afar as other players were ranked ahead of Dotson in high school. He was a top-20 player and named a McDonald’s All-American but guys like Duke point guard Tre Jones and Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans were always higher in the recruiting rankings. Fast-forward a few years later and the pecking order hasn’t changed in most mock drafts.
“People are acting like Devon was 5-foot-5 leading this Kansas team,” McInnis said. “I know the NBA game is being geared to bigger guards but there are a lot of 6-foot guards in the league. Devon is not Muggsy Bogues, he’s not Earl Boykins.”
Dotson knows his size could be a factor in teams passing on him in this year’s draft but he is a great defender and has one thing you can’t teach or coach: speed.
“I feel like I could bring a change of pace on offense and be a guard who can get in the lane and make plays at the NBA level,” Dotson said. “I take pride in my defense and I’m just going to be that competitive guard who does anything to help get a win.”
No one knows when the NBA draft will be. There are hopes that the NBA season will resume this summer, pushing the draft to either August or September, but Dotson is taking the process in strides.
“All of us in this draft class are all going through the same thing. There’s a lot of uncertainty and it’s obviously a unique year to be drafted, but I’m still trying to enjoy the process and get better every day to reach my goal,” Dotson said.
When draft night is finally here, whether that’s a virtual draft at home or in an empty arena with no fans, it will still be a special night for Dotson.
“It’s crazy how hard it is to even get to this point. It’s years and years of hard work and sacrifice and just to hear my name called is just going to be overwhelming and emotional,” Dotson said.
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