Cramming for exams, typing up term papers, waiting in line at the testing center, and shopping for textbooks in the bookstore are all in a day's work for a typical BYU freshman.
Now add to that list: running until your lungs are burning, having grown men yell at you to move faster, farther, higher, doing your homework in an airport on your way to some far-off location, and ducking under each doorway that you pass through to avoid giving yourself a concussion. This is the world of Derek Dawes, BYU's 6-11, 255-pound freshman center from Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City.
Derek insists that pushing seven feet tall does have its disadvantages. "I hate small beds," says Dawes. "I also have a hard time riding in the back seat of cars. Surprisingly, finding clothes isn't too bad, but shoes are tough."
Being so tall, Dawes is easy to spot as he walks across the BYU campus to his next class. But in the highly-regarded class of recruits to land at the Marriott Center this season, he is just another face in the crowd. And that suits Derek Dawes just fine. You see, this unassuming freshman doesn't like the spotlight and the attention that comes with being a member of the Cougar basketball team. When asked if he enjoys being a celebrity on campus, Derek quickly and clearly replies, "I'm not a celebrity."
However, his list of accomplishments begs to differ: first-team Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune All-State center his senior year; Deseret News 5A Defensive Player of the Year in 2000; second leading scorer in Utah 5A class his senior year; honorable mention All-American; rated among top-10 centers who attended the invitation-only Nike Camp; honorable mention selection on the Bob Gibbons All Tournament Team; led Cottonwood High to back-to-back Region 1 titles in 1999 and 2000; named Region 1 Most Valuable Player as the region's leading scorer and rebounder as a senior and he set school rebounding and blocked shots records in high school. Top those accomplishments off with an Eagle Scout award and politeness that would make any mother proud and you begin to get the idea that this is not your typical college freshman.
In spite of all of his accomplishments, Derek insists that college is a tough transition.
"It was a very big adjustment. There's a lot more responsibility; you don't have your teachers reminding you 'Alright, there's a test coming up tomorrow.' They'll help you when they can with stuff, but there's a class here with 1,000 people in it and in high school there would be maybe 30 people, so that is tougher, but it's fun."
Basketball is even more fun for Derek because he is able to play and practice with people he's known, and competed against, for years.
"It helps me a lot. I know what Jesse (Pinegar) will do on the court and what he won't do. It's the same way with Jake (Chrisman), so that helps me a lot."
But Dawes insists that all of his teammates-from fellow freshman Pinegar and Chrisman, to senior leaders Mekeli Wesley, Terrell Lyday, and Nathan Cooper-have played a role in helping him to adjust to Division I college basketball.
"We get along great. They were just the nicest guys ever, from day one. They've been really helping me and everyone else." Derek continues, "They don't single you out when something goes wrong. They let you know, but it's because they want to get better and they want to help you. I've never felt uncomfortable once here. I love it."
If it weren't for Derek's height however, he might have ended up playing a different sport altogether, possibly at a different school.
"My dad played baseball for the University of Utah and was drafted by the California Angels, but I didn't really like baseball. In baseball, I just had to sit there, there's too much standing around."
Although his father's athletic career didn't cause Derek to pick up a glove and a bat, his family's influence is very important to the Cougar freshman.
"My youngest sister is Kelsey who is 12. I treat her like a brother sometimes. I play rough with her, and she plays rough right back. Cassidy is my other sister. She's really good at soccer and volleyball. Both of them are terrific and I miss them a lot. That's one of the reasons I came here. I am able to play in front of my family."
But, part of the family that Derek loves playing in front of will never see him in a Cougar uniform; this past April one of Derek's heroes passed away.
"My Grandpa was a real role model for me. He treated everyone equally. I never saw him look down on anyone," Derek said. "He never hurt anyone's feelings. He was the nicest man I've ever known. I miss him every day. Our first game at home this year was really tough because even though my Grandma was there, to see her without my Grandpa was kind of sad."
Before that first game at the Y, Dawes had a chance to play against some of the best high school players in the country at several invitation-only camps this past summer.
"I was nervous because I didn't know anybody and I knew that I would have to work my tail off every single day. But I knew that I had an advantage because I've been taught to play smart in high school. I'm not the fastest, I'm not the strongest, but I try to play smart and play to my strengths."
Dawes came away from that experience realizing that he had what it takes to play and excel against the best of the best.
"I learned that you don't have to score 20 points to be successful. If I run the floor and get in the middle of the key, that will suck in the defense and give the perimeter players shots, and if they make enough of them, we win. Rebounds and defense lead to wins."
Derek's showing at these camps, coupled with his impressive senior year at Cottonwood brought recruiting attention from around the country. Schools like Ohio State, Arizona State, Florida and San Diego State came calling, but there was something about Coach Steve Cleveland that impressed Derek.
"Coach Cleveland was honest and 100% genuine. Everything that he said he would do when he came to my house during recruiting, he's done. My mom loves Coach Cleveland and my mom can tell what kind of a person you are."
Derek adds that the entire staff played a factor in his decision to put on the BYU blue.
"Everybody-Coach Rose, Coach Call, Juddy, Schroyer; everybody is just the best. They care about you on and off the court. They care about school and ask what you did on the weekends, and that makes you feel good. I just really like being around them to tell you the truth. I'd be around them all day if I could."
When you talk with Derek about the coaching staff, you are struck by how sincerely he feels about them. When asked about Assistant Coach Heath Schroyer, he gets emotional in his reply.
"I love Coach Schroyer. I love that guy more than anything. If you do something good, he'll be the first one to pick you up and say that was good, and if you do something wrong, he'll be the first one to tell you, but not in a demeaning way. He cares about you. I've felt that from day one. I can't tell you how happy I am that he's here, that's the honest truth."
As much as he enjoys being a part of the team this year, Derek will leave the Cougars after the season to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"It's the right thing to do. I always wanted to go and I'm looking forward to it," says Dawes.
Serving a mission isn't always an easy decision for a talented athlete like Dawes, and he admits that there have been some who question if a mission is the best thing for his basketball career.
"Only a few people have said that, but the people that I care about have always supported me. They haven't told me what to do, but they said, 'Do what's best for you' and I think that a mission is what's best for me."
But before Derek heads for the mission field, he plans to be a part of something special on the court this season.
"We want to win the Mountain West Conference, both the regular season and the tournament. Then we want to make some big noise in the NCAA tournament." Asked about personal goals, Dawes quickly adds, "I'm not worried about myself, I want the BYU Cougars to be successful. I could care less if I score points. Defense and rebounding, that's what wins games and that's what I want to do."
With his impressive basketball resume, you might assume that Derek figures to step right into an important role on the court, but he stresses that height or past accomplishments don't matter on this team.
"I know that Cleve doesn't care how big or tall anyone is. If you can't do what needs to be done, it'll hurt the team." Dawes adds, "It's my own choice, how hard I want to work or how much I want to do will dictate how much playing time I get. And that will let the coaches have trust in me, have faith in me that I'll produce and do the right thing when I'm on the court."
And if he does the right thing on the court during his career at BYU, does he want to continue his career at the next level?
"I think about it and I think it would be fun, but I'm not worried too much about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, fine. Like Coach Schroyer tells me, the important thing is to know that you did your best and that you reached your potential."
While an NBA career may be in his future, for now, he is content to patrol the paint at the Marriott Center, defending, rebounding and ducking under doors.