From a young age, Dawson Garcia knew he wanted to play basketball, and that early start gave him a chance to gain an abundance of valuable knowledge along the way.
“Ever since I can remember, I was into basketball,” Garcia said. “I got really serious about it around the sixth grade because I started growing a lot more and it became something that I was kind of distancing myself from my peers."
Years later, Garcia took his passion for the game and ran with it — first to Marquette, now, to UNC as a sophomore transfer.
"I played baseball, football, and basketball," he said. "I loved all of those sports growing up, but I think with basketball, I just really fell in love with the game.”
‘Outstanding and unbelievable defensive player’
Garcia has been making a name for himself in basketball since middle school.
A 6-foot-11-inch forward from Prior Lake, Minn., he is versatile on both ends of the floor — the perfect fit for a young team hoping to find its identity under first-year head coach Hubert Davis.
“One of the things that I think people are going to be able to see is that he is an outstanding and unbelievable defensive player," Davis said. "He’s a guy that I feel completely comfortable with guarding any position.”
Garcia’s early love for the game helped him gradually develop his versatility, which transformed him into a highly sought-after recruit in his high school years.
Along with guidance from his father, coaches at Prior Lake High School and his AAU team, D1 Minnesota, Garcia began to take his work ethic and preparation to a new level.
The experience he got in AAU, where he played alongside current teammate, sophomore guard Kerwin Walton, helped him prepare for the collegiate ranks.
“Our AAU team was super close and, even though we didn’t like it at the time, if we had an 8 a.m. game, our coach would have us go around the hotel parking lot running at 6 in the morning or 5:30 in the morning and we never lost an 8 a.m. game,” Garcia said. “That just goes to show how we were treating AAU like it was college basketball."
‘Nobody's going to expect him’
The hard work and preparation paid off in a big way for Garcia during his only season at Marquette, where he averaged 13 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while shooting nearly 36 percent from deep.
Ironically, one of his more notable performances came against UNC in February, when he scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in an 83-70 road win.
Marquette went through a coaching change at the beginning of the offseason, which caused Garcia to weigh his options. He entered the transfer portal and shortly after, wound up joining Walton in Chapel Hill.
Walton said he was super excited upon hearing the news of Garcia's transfer to North Carolina.
“I’m really glad he’s here with us because I think he’s going to be great not only for this team but just the program in general," Walton said. "I don’t think people know exactly what he can do yet and just how good he is, which is really going to be a blessing because nobody’s going to expect him.”
Walton also noted Garcia’s well-rounded skill set, which he believes will bring a spark to this year’s team.
“He’s comfortable on the perimeter and on the block – he’s a good guy all around,” Walton said. "He brings great energy to the team, and I think he’s going to be really good for us. He’s also my guy, too, so that’s always going to be a plus for me.”
‘Control what I can control’
Before making the decision to come to Chapel Hill, Garcia received an invite to the 2021 NBA G League Elite Camp and was able to be influenced heavily by the pro game.
In the Tar Heels’ exhibition against Elizabeth City State last Friday, the sophomore displayed his versatility and high energy in 24 minutes of action, grabbing five rebounds – four of which came on the offensive end – and finishing the game with 17 points and a steal.
“This summer definitely helped a lot,” Garcia said. “It helped my mindset and my approach a lot just seeing and being around pros and having the ability to work out like a pro.”
On a roster with some talented-but-unproven players, Garcia has been setting an example with his work ethic. Davis said he believes this will help him create a fruitful career long after his journey at UNC is finished.
“I never have to coach effort with him,” Davis said. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last guys to leave it. He comes in in the middle of the night. He’s treating this season as a professional and he’s going to have a terrific year. He’s going to have a long and unbelievable NBA career as well.”
Although there are plenty of factors that are out of grasp, Garcia knows that playing within himself will only help him moving forward.
Even on an off-night, Garcia hopes his positive mindset will pay dividends for not only his personal goals but also the Tar Heels’ championship aspirations.
“I’m going to always control what I can control,” Garcia said. “I’m going to talk, play hard, and I’m going to have a good attitude. I think if I do all of those things, everything will take care of itself.”
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