Shantavia Dawkins: The one and only


Tyler Coe

Shantavia Dawkins gets into the paint against Columbia on Nov. 20, 2022.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

Being a freshman in college is tough and a rude awakening for some.

New faces, new challenges and a new environment far from home: that all becomes harder for athletes, who have to worry about transitioning from high school to the collegiate level.

For freshman Shantavia Dawkins, the transition has been as smooth as it could be. Dawkins is the only true freshman on the Cyclones, which might be a lot of pressure for some, but not for her.

“I don’t think it adds any pressure,” Dawkins said. “I know the group of players I have in front of me that this year would just be my year to learn from them and try to get better in any way possible.”

Dawkins is coming into an Iowa State team that retained a majority of its rosters after going to the Sweet 16 last season.

Smooth as can be

Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said so far, Dawkins’ transition has been seamless. Dawkins is from the Toronto area in Canada and played for Southwest Academy.

Coming from a big city to Ames, Iowa, is not the easiest transition, but it does present some benefits.

“It’s been a hard adjustment, but it’s been a good adjustment,” Dawkins said. “It’s like less distractions.”

Fewer distractions means that Dawkins can put more focus on basketball. That focus has allowed her to adjust to the high expectations of the team.

Some freshmen have a tough time getting into the swing of things. Not Dawkins.

Dawkins has taken her new role in full stride and has shown great development as a basketball player and teammate.

“Sometimes when you adapt, you adapt because you want to, and you do the things you have to to adapt,” Fennelly said. “Rather than go, ‘Oh, poor me, poor me,’ she’s done that.”

Dawkins wanted to adapt and improve, and it showed. Dawkins showcases a fire that keeps her motivated to continue improving day in and day out.

However, Dawkins’ motivation came from a place that was out of the ordinary for an athlete. There was not anyone she was striving to be or compete with; everything she does is to make herself better because she is her own biggest motivator.

“Everything I do is kinda just self-motivating,” Dawkins said. “I drive myself to be better because I never had that. I never had an older sister; I never had a cousin or a brother.”

In fact, no one in Dawkins’ family played basketball at the collegiate level. She is the first when it comes to that.

Dawkins’ family is still her biggest supporting cast. Her family has been with her every step of the way.

Even though Dawkins’ mom lives in Canada, that doesn’t stop her from making her way to Hilton Coliseum to see her daughter play. Even in high school, her family was supportive.

“You wouldn’t know that she was two hours away from home,” Southwest Academy head coach Rob Angione said.

Shantavia Dawkins and Mary Kate King celebrate a three pointer at the ISU vs. Baylor women’s basketball game. Jan. 4, 2022. (Jacob Rice)

In high school, Dawkins’ family made it a mission to attend every game they could. The only thing that could keep them away was regulations regarding COVID-19.

Dawkins’ mother has been a rock for her from day one. There is a reason Dawkins was able to transition so smoothly.

Whether Dawkins is on the phone or Facetime with her mom, she’s always keeping in touch. Fennelly said Dawkins’ family is proud of her, and she has a lot of respect for her family. That mutual pride helps drive her to be the best she can be.

A home away from home

When it came time to decide on a college, the choice to go to Iowa State came easily. Dawkins said she wanted “a home away from home,” and her family supported that choice.

Although the Cyclones were packed in the guard position, Dawkins knew her time to contribute would come eventually, and there would be no better place to develop than Iowa State.

“I think a lot of people may shy away from that because they want to go somewhere where they’ll be the star of the team,” Dawkins said. “I knew coming here and learning from them will make me better.”

Dawkins is sitting behind some of the best players in the country, so minutes are hard to come by. However, she does not look at that as a bad thing. Instead, it gives her an opportunity to learn from some of the best.

Dawkins’ teammates haven’t just been great teachers, but they’ve also been a big influence on her as she gets used to the collegiate pace.

“Everyone to me is kinda like an older sister; I guess just an influencer and a role model to me,” Dawkins said.

It was also easy for Dawkins to bond with her teammates given her contagious personality. She brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the team even when she’s on the bench.

Dawkins is always smiling and is as high-energy as it gets.

“She’s got a little more juice to her personality than some,” Fennelly said. “She’s a very outgoing kid. I think she relates to people really, really well.” 

Dawkins doesn’t just bond with her teammates on the court or in practice but off the court as well. Her energy helps the team relax when they aren’t in a game-day mindset.

Dawkins makes sure to lighten the mood, whether that’s by having fun with others or causing others to smile. She’s even been active on social media, making TikToks with her teammates.

“Everyone is super close,” Dawkins said. “It’s definitely like a family atmosphere that we have here.”

When it comes down to it, developing a family atmosphere has allowed her to strengthen her teamwork skills. Getting closer to the team has its benefits on and off the court, and it will only get stronger as time goes on.

That teamwork treats her well on a Cyclone team that values teamwork highly. Before she can be a great player, she has to be a great teammate.

“She’s a really good teammate and fits the culture of what we’re about,” Fennelly said. 

Her high school coach had similar things to say about her teamwork.

“That’s something that makes Shantavia special and unique,” Angione said. “Shantavia was born with great teamwork.”

Teamwork may come naturally to Dawkins, but it also developed stronger as she grew up. Her strong work ethic and teamwork were instilled in her by her mother.

When it came down to it, helping her team win was the most important thing. And Dawkins would do whatever it took to help her team succeed.

“Even if she was the worst player in North America, you would still want her on your team,” Angione said.

Although, that isn’t the case with Dawkins. She’s used to playing at a highly competitive level, even before getting to college.

Starting early

In Dawkins’ time at Southwest Academy, she had to travel two hours away from home to play basketball. It may have been high school basketball, but the atmosphere around it took on more of a college feel, as she lived in dorms or player houses with her teammates.

Southwest Academy is a scholastic prep school devoted to building up student-athletes. It was based on the U.S. model of prep schools and is relatively new, as it was founded just seven years ago.

Southwest Academy was a one-stop shop for Dawkins as she developed into a star basketball player. The school combined basketball with regular high school classes while also having strength and conditioning and anything else an athlete needs to succeed.

There, Dawkins was able to propel her skill to the next level. Dawkins went to Southwest Academy from ninth to 12th grade, while most girls only spend two years at the school.

Dawkins’ four years at Southwest prepared her for the competitiveness she would face at the collegiate level.

“In high school, you know you have some girls that are on the team but don’t really want it, but here, every single day, it’s like everyone wants it,” Dawkins said. “Everyone’s trying to achieve the same goals, so every single day, you gotta bring it.”

The program thrived off of Dawkins’ involvement. Angione said the logo has three branches, and one of those could easily be for Dawkins, because she was one of the founding members of the academy.

Dawkins found success on the court, as she quickly became a key contributor to the success of the program. That success turned the heads of international coaches, and she was picked to compete on the Canadian team for the 2022 FIBA U18 Women’s Americas Championships.

Dawkins helped her team to a silver medal in the championships, playing in nearly all of the games for Canada. Her time on Team Canada helped develop new skills in her game and as a teammate.

Dawkins went from playing at Southwest Academy, where Angione said she had “always been the alpha,” to playing with a team filled with talent. The lack of minutes did not discourage her; instead, she thrived in her role and built up her teamwork.

She also had to move from point guard to shooting guard, which was a big change for her. Dawkins adapted well to her new position, and she was able to show her ability to do different things on the court.

“It helped her understand she can impact the game in different ways,” Angione said. “There’s a process to greatness.”

The structure and level of international play helped ease the transition to college ball. It helped prepare her more than just high school ball would have.

Defense was a large focus at the international level, which got Dawkins accustomed to the strong defense at the collegiate level. Dawkins wants to get more experience on the international level if it works out for her.

She received an invite to try out for the Canadian team again, but it could conflict with the NCAA Tournament in March. When it comes down to it, Dawkins said, “only time will tell” if she makes it back to the international stage in the near future.

For now, Dawkins has her sights set on what’s ahead for Iowa State. 

A bridge for the future

The Cyclones signed five players for next year’s team, which means a whole new era of Cyclones basketball could be around the corner. Being the only current freshman, Dawkins will have to be the bridge between the two teams to make the transition seamless.

Once veteran players finish their time at Iowa State, Dawkins will have to be the one to carry on their legacies. So far, it looks like she’s up to the challenge.

Shantavia Dawkins looks to share the ball against Southern on Nov. 10, 2022. (Tyler Coe)

“She’s doing the things you need to do to work yourself to the next steps,” Fennelly said. 

Dawkins is picking up on the things that make a great college basketball player. She is always listening and learning, and she makes time to work out in the gym outside of practice.

Her work ethic and drive will serve her well when she gets more minutes. Most of the time, there aren’t openings to make an immediate impact. Especially coming into a team that retained all its starters from a Sweet 16 run.

However, Dawkins thrives in a highly competitive environment. Angione described Dawkins as a generational kid. She makes people better just by them being around her.

“I think Shantavia will bring a relentless presence, intensity and pace to the game,” Angione said.

Despite the limited minutes on the court, Dawkins has seen some successful game-time action.

When Dawkins first stepped onto the court in Hilton Coliseum against Cleveland State, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause as her name was announced. She danced her way out to her team looking cool and collected, getting in position to play her first real possession as a Cyclone.

The team was leading by over 30 points, so there wasn’t much pressure on Dawkins. She helped her team secure the win, but her first points wouldn’t come for a few more games.

The Cyclones were soundly beating SIUE going into the final quarter. With the win sealed away, the last 10 minutes could feature new faces looking for some reps, including Dawkins.

Just a couple of minutes into the quarter, the Cyclones were driving the ball back down the court as Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw passed the ball to Dawkins.

Dawkins couldn’t take a shot with a defender in her face, so she kicked it back out to Espenmiller-McGraw. A quick pass to Nyamer Diew and back to Espenmiller-McGraw caused the defense to break down.

Dawkins was wide open in the corner as the ball came her way. A defender tried to run over to cover her, expecting an incoming three.

Dawkins took her opportunity and drove to the rim, sneaking under the defender before making a layup. As the ball fell through the net, the Hilton crowd erupted.

“When the camera zoomed in on her smirk,” Angione said, “that’s Shantavia.”

Dawkins’ score put the Cyclones up by 45 points, an insurmountable lead. 

That lead didn’t stop Dawkins from making the most of her time on the court. She finished the game with six points in the last quarter.

“It doesn’t matter if we were losing by 30 or winning by 30, the crowd reacts the same way,” Dawkins said. “I think that was really, really cool to just score, to feel the love and the energy from the crowd because Hilton magic is real. I always hear about it, but scoring and hearing them cheer, it’s real love.”

It was a moment she won’t forget. However, for Dawkins, those moments won’t be a rarity; they will come more and more as time goes on.