The fifth piece to Maryland's 2010 recruiting class, Haukur (pronounced HUGH-kur) Palsson, is a senior at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla., and until this year was living in his native Iceland.
That's right, the newest Terp is from the tiny island country of Iceland, population: about 320,000. The two most popular sports are soccer and handball, but they do play a fair amount of basketball there (their best player is Jón Arnór Stefánsson, who played a year for the Dallas Mavericks).
Which brings us back to Hawk. According to his coach, Kevin Sutton, he's got a high basketball IQ, can play multiple positions on the floor and is further along defensively than other European players.
Palsson is 6-6, 210, and said he has played literally every position, but sees himself more as a wing player.
I think I'll be playing a two or a three in the future, Palsson said, and I'm pretty comfortable with those positions. I like playing with my face towards the basket, and not with my back to it, but I can do that too, though; I'm used to playing the 4. I can shoot the ball pretty well, so I like shooting the ball, and I think that's a big factor in it.
Despite only being stateside for a year, Palsson speaks English well and is an outgoing individual.
He's a quality person, Sutton said. He's a kid who's very personable, he can handle himself in an interview, with adults. One of things he did on his visits is that he quickly jumped right in with the guys.
One of the reasons for his English fluency is his upbringing. Palsson's grandmother spoke English to him when he was very young. However, Hawk's not only gifted linguistically, but in the classroom - he's on the honor roll. He also has some idea of what he wants to study in College Park, but was tentative and seems open to change.
I'm going to try physical training, Palsson said. That's what I want to try now, but we'll see after the first year. I'm kind of towards that now.
Palsson seems ready for college, both in and out of the classroom. He said one of his goals is to become even more friendly and outgoing.
[My goal is] off the court, being a good person, nice, so people can come talk to me, he said, and a jolly guy. On the court, that they respect me. I'm going to play tough.
One of Palsson's points of emphasis is how much tougher and more athletic basketball is in the U.S. than it is in Europe.
I think everybody here is more athletic, they're tougher, he said. It's faster. There are more good players here than in Iceland. We got some good players back in Iceland though. I ain't saying we're bad, but it's better competition here.
Palsson also said that playing here has brought that toughness out that Terps fans can expect for four years.
If you want to succeed, you got to play hard, he said. That's what I've learned. Here we play hard, we play tough, we play fast, so you've got to be mentally and physically tough.
The speed and pace of the game are things that Sutton thinks Palsson still needs to work on.
He needs to continue to get acclimated to the speed of our game, Sutton said. It's a lot faster. [He needs to improve in] recognizing the speed and the athleticism, but he makes up for that in being a very bright basketball player, and his skill level is very high. He's going to be a kid, I guarantee it, that people are wondering why he wasn't being recruited. He's a Gary Williams-type player.
Mental and physical toughness are two things that the Maryland head coach, and 2009 ACC coach of the year, demands of all his players. Sutton thinks that Williams is going to be happy with more than just Hawk's toughness. Williams likes to press, alternate zone and man schemes, and Sutton said Palsson picked up on all of that when he visited Maryland
I'm originally from the DC area, and I grew up watching Gary Williams coach, said Sutton. I'm very familiar with how Maryland plays, and Hawk is a student of the game, and he saw a lot of similarities on how we play. We press a lot, we change our defenses, and we expect a lot out of our players. We are a good team and Hawk's going to fit in very well at Maryland. He's used to being coached, and that's a big thing that a lot of people don't realize is important: that he's used to being coached.
Sutton also talked about how it has been to coach Palsson over the past year, and lamented the lack of time he and Hawk had to work together at Montverde, which is an international boarding school in central Florida.
Coaching him has been fantastic, he said. In my seven years that I've been here, Hawk is one of the few kids that's been able to acclimate to the program. It speaks volumes for how he's going to be at the University of Maryland. He's going to do very well at Maryland academically, athletically and socially. I'm selfish, I wish I could have coached him for two years, but I only got one.
However, Palsson is ready to get to Maryland, play with the Terps, and play for Williams.
When I went up there this week, I saw they have everything I wanted, Palsson said. They have a good team, they're all social, I can tell they're great. That's what I was looking for. Academically, socially, I want to feel comfortable, and then the basketball I saw they beat Duke, so they're great.
Palsson also liked what he saw from the fiery Williams, well known for screaming on the sidelines and the occasional suit jacket toss.
I like him a lot, he said. He's, how do you say it he's intense. Coach Williams is intense and I like that.