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Dinkins 'Knucklehead' to role model

by Greg Talkington

SPORTS WRITER

It's been a well-known fact for many years that some of the best basketball players in the United States never make it out of the inner city.

Charles Dinkins was nearly one of them.

The talented Salem-Teikyo swingman never played high school basketball. And had it not been for a friend of the family and his uncle, it's likely he'd have never played college basketball.

"I was pretty much a knucklehead in high school," Dinkins said. "I was more interested in partying, girls and hangin' out and really wasn't into basketball."

Thanks to a friend, Melvin McCullen, and his uncle, Barry Dinkins, he got a chance to participate in some AAU tournaments. They also influenced his personal life.

"Melvin was a basketball star in school, but had some things go wrong in his life," Dinkins said. "He saw how my life was going and pretty much grabbed me by the collar and said 'Stop what you're doing, go play ball and make something of yourself.'

"I never lived around my father, so Melvin was like a father-figure to me, and I knew he knew what he was talking about and listened to him."

His uncle Barry played junior college basketball and encouraged Charles to give it a shot.

"They had a tournament in Brooklyn and brought some of us street players in to play against some of the high school stars," Dinkins said. "I held my own against all of them."

His play in those tournaments landed him a scholarship to Southwestern Junior College near San Diego, Cal.

"I'd seen some of my friends killed and others hauled off to jail," Dinkins said. "I needed to get out of New York."

At Southwestern, Dinkins quickly developed into a star. During his second season, he made several JUCO all-American teams and was the California Junior College Player of the Year, averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds a game. He led Southwestern to a 33-4 record and broke several school records.

But maybe more important, he received his associate degree in physical education.

"I got my degree while I was there and I did it two years," Dinkins said.

Offers then poured in from several major colleges. Dinkins chose Kansas State.

He was supposed to be red-shirted his first season. He was trying to recover from a knee injury, plus gain some weight.

"I weighed about 170-175 pounds when I got to Kansas State," Dinkins said. "I needed a red-shirt year to get stronger because the Big 12 is a real physical league."

Unfortunately for Dinkins, injuries forced him into playing time. His first game came against Pac-10 power Arizona State on ESPN.

"I played pretty well in that game and played in three others," Dinkins, who averaged around 13 points a game in those four contests, said. "But I really didn't want to give up my red-shirt year and it set me back some.

"The coaches there kept pressuring me to play and I knew I wasn't ready. Then I got down on myself."

Dinkins ended up leaving Kansas State and went home to Brooklyn.

Several schools contacted him, but he eventually began a friendship with Salem-Teikyo assistant Danny Young.

"At first when some of my old coaches told me about Salem-Teikyo, I thought what kind of name is that?" Dinkins said. "But Terrence Springer told me all about Salem and told me what kind of place it was and what the program was about."

Springer, also a Brooklyn native, had played at Southwestern the year before Dinkins arrived and was also heavily recruited.

"He told me about Coach (Mike) Carey and how intense he was," Dinkins said. "He said Salem had a winning program, and had made it to the Elite Eight of Division II.

"Then, when Coach Young started coming around, we became friends. He can be a coach to you, but he can also be a big brother to you too."

Dinkins arrived amid much hoopla, but by his own admission, thought his first season at S-TU was somewhat of a flop.

"I wasn't in tip-top shape to begin with," he said. "Then I had to learn the offense and that took a good while.

"I don't think I was ever at ease last year."

The result was erratic play. But what a difference a year makes.

Thus far this season, Dinkins is averaging 22 points a game. His slashing drives to the hoop often result in explosive dunks that leave foes shaking their heads. With an improved jump shot, defenders are left in a quandary.

But personal goals don't supercede team goals with Dinkins.

"One of the main reasons I came here was that I thought we could win the national championship," Dinkins said. "We have two great coaches, great talent and play in a tough league.

"I really believe we can stay focused enough to accomplish that. If we don't, coach Carey will run us until we get that focus."

Dinkins hopes he can play basketball professionally, whether in the United States or overseas. But he knows what he wants to do with his life once he hangs up his sneakers.

"I want to give something back to kids in the city and be a good role model," said Dinkins, who is majoring in youth and human services. "They need to know that you don't have to be perfect to be successful and that you don't have to be a genius to go to college.

"They just need to know that there are opportunities if you know where to look."

Afterall, making the most of opportunities is what Charles Dinkins is all about.

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