Fred Pennington remembers Darryl Dawkins: ‘He was such a wonderful young man’
In subsequent interviews, Dawkins’ coach at Evans, Fred Pennington, described his former big man as “the best high school basketball player who ever lived,” and on Thursday, in the wake of Dawkins’ stunning death following a heart attack at age 58, the 88-year-old Pennington echoed those remarks.
“As far as high school is concerned, I’ve still never seen anybody who could compare with him,” Pennington told FOX Sports when reached by phone at his home outside Orlando. “I went down to (his house) to see him one time, and his feet were about four feet out of the bed. The bed wasn’t big enough to hold him.
“He was such a wonderful young man and an excellent ballplayer,” added Pennington, who coached Evans to the Class AAAA state championship when Dawkins scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the 1975 title game. “This is heartbreaking and just hard to believe.”
More memorable than Dawkins’ play, however, was his personality, said Pennington, who remembered the 6-foot-11 center as a good student and an upstanding person.
“He was a church-goer and he seldom ever missed school,” Pennington said. “The only time he missed class was when he and his brothers would pick oranges for Christmas presents. … He loved poetry and would always come up with (his catchphrases), and I guess that was part of the poetry he loved to fiddle around with. He was just a super kid on campus, and everybody loved him.”
“As far as high school is concerned, I’ve still never seen anybody who could compare with him.”
Former Maynard Evans coach Fred Pennington
And when there was a lesson to be taught, Pennington says Dawkins was always one to listen and take heed.
“The first experience that I can remember that stuck with me — we had our first scrimmage at practice, and he got a rebound and it was under the offensive basket, and instead of shooting the ball or passing the ball out, he took a dribble,” said Pennington, who coached the Trojans from 1962-76 and served as the school’s athletic director and assistant principal until his retirement in 1990.
“Of course, that’s a Cardinal sin in basketball, especially when you’re as big as he was, and I yelled at him and I said, ‘If you ever do that again, you’ll run until you drop,’ and I slammed the ball down and it went about halfway up to the ceiling,” Pennington added. “And to this day, I don’t know of him ever getting an offensive rebound and putting it back on the floor.”
Pennington said he and Dawkins remained close throughout Dawkins’ career before losing touch over the last couple years. Still, Pennington has only fond memories of the star of his 1975 state championship team.
“I’ll just always remember his attitude and his work habits to get better, in school as well as basketball,” Pennington added. “He was always willing to work more than anyone else. He would go full speed at everything you put in front of him.”