ANGOLA — Brandi Dawson stood on the edge of Trine University’s basketball court at the MTI Center. It was February 6 and the Thunder had just defeated Saint Mary’s College, 69-55, in the women’s team’s senior night. She had just scored a game-high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
Standing there, taking it all in, the spotlights hanging from the high-arching roof of the fieldhouse still shining bright, she reflected on a career nearly done. The moments she helped create, the legacy she would inevitably leave behind. For the first time, those lights were not shining on her present, but her past.
For four historic seasons, Trine University basketball had been Dawson’s life. And Dawson had been a program personified.
What would become of her life now?
Midthought, a familiar face interrupted her retrospective state. Bob Lapadot is a regular at Trine games. He coached Dawson in high school at Garrett and has remained close to her since. When he spoke with Dawson that night, he altered the course of her future in a very real way.
Garrett needed a new junior varsity girls basketball coach. Lapadot knew this, of course, and presented the opportunity to Dawson.
“I saw her eyes light up,” Lapadot said. “I knew she was at least considering it.”
Over the coming months more opportunities came Dawson’s way, including a chance to join Brandon Appleton’s staff at Angola. She mulled over the opportunities, unsure of what to do. Then Craig Taylor, an assistant coach for the Thunder women’s team, stepped down.
Dawson was one of head coach Andy Rang’s first calls, and her indecision vanished.
Dawson’s hire as an assistant coach on Rang’s staff has yet to be officially announced by the university, save a Twitter post by the program’s account. But it changes little.
In five months she will retake the court at the MTI Center, no longer donning the iconic No. 23, but rather a block “T.” A new symbol for a new era of Dawson’s career. A life path that, as few as five years ago, never would have seemed possible.
Dawson walked through the doors of MTI Thursday and immediately looked to her left. In a building filled with reminders of how far she has come, one stands out: a mural of her personage on the arena’s wall of fame.
“It’s surreal because I’m the first member of my family to graduate from college,” Dawson said. “There was a time in high school I didn’t think I would even go to college.
“All the times people told me I couldn’t do it, all the negativity that was sent my way. I did it.”
She’s had to fight for this.
Dawson entered Garrett High School as a talented ball player, but one who needed to find her way. She struggled with grades for a time, and faced the burden of low expectations for her prospects of post-secondary schooling.
Despite that, she graduated with a 3.0 grade point average and earned a scholarship to Wright State University, where she planned on starting her collegiate hoops career.
Dawson never fit the mold of the star high school basketball player.
While most players of her stature compete on at least one AAU circuit, Dawson never did.
Sure, she tried it. But never felt comfortable with the style of play so prevalent throughout the AAU scene.
“It was selfish,” Lapadot said. “That’s not Brandi. She never played selfish. She’s all about the team.”
Consequentially, Dawson didn’t get as much exposure as other players. But her play on Garrett’s court drew plenty of attention.
When she finally got to college, Dawson became embroiled in a minor scandal involving her admission to Wright State and a coach who left the program.
“There was a lot of dishonesty from the school,” Lapadot said. “They said she needed at least a 3.0 GPA to get in, and she worked hard to get there by the time she graduated. Then the coach left and it was just a bad situation.”
So she transferred to Trine, closer to home, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Those who know her best are bullish about Dawson’s coaching prospects. Lapadot couldn’t stop himself from uttering words such as leader, teacher, passionate and love.
That passion and love for the game still exudes from the recently-graduated Dawson, who still works out on campus with the team every week. While she doesn’t know where her future will take her, she does know exactly where she fits in right now. Where she belongs. That’s at Trine University, on the basketball court.
Dawson relishes the opportunity to continue working with the team, now with more freedom than she had as a player.
“It’s something I think about a lot,” she said. “Just a year ago, I was a teammate to these players. Now I’m their coach. It’s a different dynamic.
“But I also get to teach those same players different things that I couldn’t as a teammate. I can teach them in different ways and help their game to grow even more than I could before.”
Lapadot couldn’t be happier for his former player. After all, he was at her side through the thick and thin as she grew up. He knows that Trine is adding a quality coach, as well as individual, to its staff, even if part of him still wishes she was coming back home.
“I’d say I was a little disappointed, yeah, because Brandi is the type of person that any coach would love to have on their staff,” he said. “But, I also know that Brandi is a Railroader for life. She’ll still be around and involved in the program in a different way.
“What she has now is the perfect stepping stone to a great coaching career in front of her.”
That’s something that has weighed heavily on Dawson’s mind. Just how committed is she to this? How far does she want to ride this wave? She admits the idea of being a head coach one day is intriguing. But, for now, she’s happy where she’s at.
She’s where she belongs.
“It’s just an absolute honor,” Dawson said. “I never thought that any of this would happen. I can just picture it now (at MTI) when there’s games, going to our rivals Hope and Calvin.
“It’s just going to be awesome.”
Dawson is not the only player from last season’s Trine’s women’s basketball team to become an assistant college basketball coach. Cassidy Williams will be an assistant coach for the women’s program at Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association rival Olivet.