COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Any given season, Central Ohio hoop fans can expect a consistent level of high end talent that ushers in with each incoming class. Every year, it’s expected to see a number of players graduate and sign with mid to high-major Division I programs, along with an influx of talent that sign on at other competitive collegiate levels. Most of those players go on and garner regional and even national recognition, hoopers like Sean Jones, Des Watson and Devin Royal, players that are decorated with various All-Metro or District Player of the Year awards.
If you were to scan over recent All-District selections from the past seven years, there’s a good chance that most honorees have worked with Jason Dawson, founder of D.O.S.E. Training. No, Dawson has not individually trained every top player that has come through Central Ohio during that span, but he’s worked with most. In 2021 and 2022, five out of the six players that were recognized as District Player of the Year in Divisions I-III were “Dose Boys,” a nickname that evolved for veterans of Dawson’s training program.
For the sake of brevity, this is an abbreviated list of players that can call themselves Dose Boys. Names such as the previously mentioned Jones (Marquette), Watson (Davidson) and Royal (current four star recruit) join other notable local standouts that include Tyrese Hughey (Furman), DJ Moore (Liberty), Jalen Sullinger (Kent State) and current players Dailyn Swain (four star recruit) and Donovan Hunter (Kent State commit). Just a few weeks ago, the Dose Boys added a new badge of honor; NBA first round draft pick as Dawson trained Columbus native Malaki Branham since he was in the fifth grade and was present with Branham as he was selected with the 20th pick to the San Antonio Spurs.
So how did the 33 year-old Dawson, a north side Columbus native that graduated from Columbus Monroe Middle School and Worthington Christian High School, who spent two seasons at a military academy, attended three different universities and played professionally in three different countries, develop into one of the area's most notable youth basketball trainer?
Dawson admits his college resume isn’t the ideal path. He graduated from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia in 2008 and then spent his first two collegiate seasons at Wofford University. After his sophomore year, Dawson sought out a program that fit his style of play better, so he transferred to Gardner-Webb, that at the time was led by current Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, and played one season. But his mother back home in Columbus was battling COPD and Dawson wanted to make sure she could see more of his games. That's when he transferred again and finished his collegiate career at Mount Vernon Nazarene University.
“Transferring three different times, it looks bad,” Dawson acknowledged. “But I’m here now to help guide the kids with the mistakes I’ve had on and off the court. Let me be your cheat sheet, so you can live better than me.”
While Dawson may not recommend a collegiate path that incurred as many destinations as his own, he’s quick to point out how there are no regrets in his journey. If it weren’t for the multiple stops, he would have missed out on the plentiful relationships and lessons he gathered from the many bright basketball minds along the way.
“I can call any of the three head coaches I played for, those guys still mentor me,” Dawson said. “I probably should have gone to Virginia Tech or Wichita State (after Fork Union), but I didn’t want to wait for playing time. I don’t regret it though, because I wouldn’t be in the situation that I’m in now.”
The situation now is the ability to train and develop middle school and high school players, which ranges anywhere from 50-75 kids that come through his program prior to the start of the season. A notable recent situation for Dawson was highlighted last month when he was in New York City to share a hug with Branham on draft night. The emotional moment brought back memories for Dawson that included all the hours spent together in the gym and even the occasional moments when he would pick up or drop off Branham at his home in Linden. Those memories and sacrifices mean even more as Branham recently signed his rookie contract and is set to make in excess of $14 million over four seasons.
“It was just an awesome feeling, to see him make it to his goal and to help him reach that goal," Dawson said. "It was a surreal moment for him to accomplish a dream he's had since he was young. I wanted to play in the NBA at one point too, so for him to have me there, being in the green room and at the draft, he gave me the opportunity to feel that a bit too."
Dawson and Branham pose together on draft night (photo: Jake Spegal)
But Dawson and Branham aren’t able to enjoy the glamorous moments if it weren’t for the grit moments such as Dawson's infamous early morning workouts, where his young trainees develop from talented youth players into complete, well-rounded “killers” on the court. In addition to Branham, 2021 DeSales graduate and current Davidson Wildcat Des Watson was a fellow player to experience that type of mental transition.
“From junior to senior season, I could probably count on two hands, the number of times we didn’t have 5am sessions,” Watson said. “We were there game days, after game days. Even on the day of the (Division II) state championship, we trained that morning from 5am-6am. That’s what it takes to be the best.” Watson would know as he finished his career as arguably the best player to ever put on a DeSales jersey and graduated as the program’s all-time lead scorer, a two-time all-state selection and the 2021 Central District Player of the Year in Division II.
Similar to Branham, Watson began training with Dawson before he reached middle school. He learned of Dawson from a family friend and even at a young age, he and his family recognized Dawson stood out from other trainers.
“[Jason] has a different vibe to him when you work out with him. You can tell it’s not about the money,” Watson said. “He wants you to get better on and off the court. That’s what my parents saw. That’s what I saw. And that’s why to this day, I still work with him. He’s like my big brother, we talk every week.”
Undoubtedly, Dawson has the basketball mind and pedigree to help a player’s handles or improve his shot. Yet it’s how he challenges his players from a mental standpoint, to get them comfortable in uncomfortable and tense situations, that separates the great from the good. Recent Gahanna graduate and incoming Marquette freshman Sean Jones can attest to Dawson’s approach that helped him become an all-state selection for three straight seasons.
“In my experience, there have been trainers that would just let me do what I want, but Jason was not one of those,” Jones said. “Before and after workouts, he would tell me what I needed to hear.” And during the workouts, the high standard of competition and intensity helped raise Jones’ game to another level.
“Those early mornings, they really wake you up. The [high level of competition] with the other players he also trains, it made me feel a progression in my game,” Jones said. When the pandemic struck in March 2020 and gym time was limited, Jones reflected on the added time Dawson spent breaking down video with him. “We watched a lot of film together,” Jones said. “When I was being recruited, he would break down college films with me. He showed me game film of his own and told me plays he would have rather done instead.”
Dawson does not shy away from the intentional practice of creating an intense environment and will let a player know when he or she is not meeting a certain expectation. “At some point, I’ve kicked [each kid I’ve trained] out of the gym at least once,” Dawson said. “I try to prepare them for what’s next, so their body language never changes and they can be coached hard. And that emotionally, nothing affects them on the court. But it’s a loving, hostile environment that is appreciated later on.”
For the players that appreciate the environment that Dawson curates, the best ones end up embracing and sharing a similar mentality. Dawson knew he saw growth in Watson when it was Watson that threw a fellow player out the gym as that player failed to bring the proper amount of tenacity. “It’s 5am, no one wants to wake up early. We’re here now, so we’re going to go as hard as we can,” Watson said. “So yeah, if you weren’t going hard, you’d get kicked out.” That type of tough love creates a relationship that goes beyond player-coach, but more so big brother and mentor.
Dawson traveled and trained with Branham prior to the draft (photo: Jake Spegal)
“Over time, you develop a certain respect for one another. Certain things you go through together build trust,” Watson said. “We had that respect between the lines, where I can take things he says a certain way and understand he’s just trying to make me better. When you go through intense training environments, arguments, fights in the gym, those things actually bring you closer together. Outside the court, he’d coach me too. All of that brought a tighter connection.”
While many of Dawson’s players are now spread throughout the country and play for various collegiate or professional programs, he stays close with most of them either through text, a breakdown of film or remote training sessions. While Central Ohio is still home in many ways, he now spends much of his time in the Charlotte region as he was tapped to be the director of operations and head trainer at a new facility, The Carolina Factory. This new position comes after he spent three seasons as the head coach of the Worthington Christian girls basketball team, where he accomplished so much in a short time that his first tenure as a varsity head coach deserves a feature article of its own. Dawson and the Warriors collected 70 total wins and appeared in their first state title appearance last season.
While Dawson can proudly boast notable achievements from his coaching and training resume; the state title appearance, the player of the year awards, Branham’s draft selection, ultimately it’s the player and personal development that defines ultimate success for him. Is the player getting better? Have they improved from three months ago? Are they getting hungrier for success and have a desire to work harder? These are the questions Dawson asks himself when he evaluates success and it’s not about how many kids make the NBA or play at the Division I level.
“Almost all of the kids [I train] have a goal to play college basketball, but even for the ones that don’t, they can learn so many life skills,” Dawson said. “I’m not here to post pictures and brag on social media about who I’m training. It’s more about intimate relationships and longevity.” Dawson’s emphasis on relationships goes back to the countless number of coaches that impacted his life and how each one of those coaches put him in the position he’s in today.
“You can be self made, but there are people that made self out of you,” Dawson said. “You need people to help you and I’m a big advocate of that. It’s about yourself only to an extent, because you’re going to eventually need something from somebody. I’m a selfless person that always seeks new information and I try to pull people with me.”
And while Dawson may not have played for a high major Division I program or had an opportunity in the NBA, if it weren’t for the mentors and coaches that were selfless with him, Dawson couldn’t do the same for the players he trains.
“I’m now able to impact lives and that’s where God wants me to be,” Dawson said. “I’m able to give back and be a bridge for student-athletes.”
And with each bridge Dawson creates, that opens an opportunity for his current and former players to have a blueprint of their own to one day impact someone else's life.