By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala - Josh Dollard is running out of pages on his passport.
"I've been to Canada, Switzerland, Dominican Republic," says Dollard, Auburn's leading scorer and rebounder as a sophomore in 2006-07. "I've been to Finland, the Philippines, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Greece, Qatar. I'm well-traveled."
Fourteen countries in five years playing professional basketball.
"It taught me to be open-minded," he says. "And embrace other people's culture, and not be so self-centered, thinking everything revolves around the United States."
There's one destination Dollard did not expect to see again on his itinerary: Auburn, Alabama.
Eight years after being dismissed from the team for violating athletic department policy, Dollard graduates from Auburn Saturday with a degree in Sociology.
"It's just a commitment I made to my family to come back, finish what I started," he says. "I always wanted to be a college graduate. That was all the motivation I needed."
A knee injury last December ended Dollard's season, but gave him an unexpected window to return to Auburn to earn his remaining credit hours.
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"It kind of puts a cap on everything I've been through with Auburn," he says. "Been up. Been down, and now I'm back up. It just kind of puts the seal on my story. It's a major accomplishment.
"I can't even describe what Saturday's going to feel like for me. Walking across that stage, and knowing that I'm an official Auburn man," Dollard says. "I'm an official part of this school, and that's something that nobody can ever take away from you. Even when you're gone, your degree still stands strong."
Dollard gives part of the credit for his return to his former Tiger teammate, Korvotney Barber, who drowned in 2013.
"It was something we always talked about when I left school. He always encouraged me, `Josh, if you get the opportunity, finish school. Don't be a statistic.' I always kept that in the back of my mind."
Dollard gives two more assists, to Auburn Academic Counselor Dr. Kirsten Perkins, and coach Bruce Pearl.
"She told me, `Hey, Josh. We want you to come finish this up, the first chance you get. Let's get it done,'" Dollard says. "She's been so vital for me to come back and finish.
"I owe her a lot as well as Coach Pearl for him taking a stand and saying, `Josh, I know what type of person you are. What type of player you were for this program. I want you to come back and be a part of this.' That was the most gratifying thing for me. I really appreciate him for that," Dollard says.
Pearl says when he asked Dollard to speak to Auburn's basketball team, Josh made a profound impact.
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"Josh wasn't sure, because he left Auburn not on top, whether or not Auburn would actually want him to come back," Pearl says. "And I think what touched him more than anything was Auburn really wanted him to come back. And wanted him to finish his degree."
"It's been wonderful," Dollard says. "When you mess up and you have to leave a program. It's kind of like you let them down. To come back and have to face these very people in the face. You never know the type of reception you're going to get.
"Then to come back and just see that everybody still knows you as Josh. They still embrace you. They still smile when they see you," Dollard says. "And for them to actually say, `Hey, we want you back around.' That was the most gratifying thing. It was a no-brainer. The first opportunity that I got to come back, that's what I wanted to do."
So moved was Pearl by Dollard's comeback story, he offered Josh a position as a graduate assistant when Dollard's globe-trotting playing days are over.
"My heart lies here at Auburn," Dollard says. "Even after all these years, I still have a strong belief and faith in Auburn."
Pearl says Dollard's message about overcoming adversity is one every young person should hear.
"What I told them was, `This is a very precious time of your lives. These four years are very precious. You need to take full advantage of that,'" Dollard says. "It was something that, as a youngster, I didn't really understand. I took this opportunity for granted. I told them this is a privilege. This is not something that you're entitled to. It's important that you take this opportunity and use it to its full capacity.
"I told them about some of the troubles that I had as an athlete. None of my troubles were really on the court. It was away from basketball. I told them how important it is to be a good character person as opposed to just a good basketball player.
"At the end of the day, when the ball stops dribbling, people are going to look at you as the man, who you are, what type of character did you have," he says.
For Dollard, who turns 30 in September, the turning point came when he went home to South Carolina.
"Growing up, and realizing it really wasn't about me," he says. "When you go through things, you're not the only one who hurts. You hurt your family. You hurt your mom, your dad. Your grandparents. Then you go back into your community and realize how many people you let down. And how many people feel like, `If you make it, we make it. We have some pride in you. You are our pride and joy.'
"When you do things and you hurt people and you sit back and look at how it affects other people in the long run, it kind of changes you as a person," he says.
"Me going from being one of the top players in the SEC, to a point where I almost lost everything, even my basketball career," he said. "I had some time to reflect and say, this is not the life I planned to live. It was an eye-opener to change, be more disciplined in life. And apply that to my career."
The Josh Dollard Story: making the most of a second chance, coming to Auburn Arena Saturday at 10 a.m.
"When you hit a certain part of your life where you need help, you need people to pick you up and say, `Everything's going to be alright. I've got your back,'" Dollard says. "People giving you a second chance is vital. Because everybody messes up. Everybody makes mistakes. It's good to give people a chance to learn from their mistakes. It's good to give people a chance to correct their wrongs. It's needed."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer