He has been ranked by Scout.com for some time as the #2 center in the nation in the 2006 class, slotted behind only Greg Oden, the man-child seven-footer from Indianapolis who is a lock for the #1 overall draft position in June of '06. But Spencer Hawes is rapidly improving his game and his body, rather than resting on the laurels of his rankings and college suitors. The 6'11" Seattle Prep (Seattle, Wash.) standout has both skills and athleticism in his arsenal, and now he is adding a physical dimension to boot. Now tipping the scales at 225 pounds, Hawes has a strength of both body and mind to better thrive in the low post against big bodies.
"I improved the most this year at slowing down - being patient and letting things come to me. Not being lackadaisical. But the biggest thing is strength and athleticism. My vertical is improving. My shuttle is improving. And I can lift a little more, now that my high school season is done," Hawes describes. "It's a work in progress."
"I used to be able to get by against a lot of guys with what I could do, but now I take it right at them instead of sagging away from contact. It's an added dimension," he beams. "My explosiveness has really improved. It helps my fast break, on the block, and I can dunk easier. It probably shows up the most on the defensive end, with rebounding and blocked shots."
But with an ambidextrous touch around the basket, a fluid motion on the floor and a great feel for the game, Hawes was already an elite national recruit at this time a year ago. While his improvements this spring are eye-catching, you will not read about new schools jumping on board his bandwagon. Elite programs already hitched their wagon to him many months ago, with offers from the likes of Arizona, North Carolina and Kansas.
"A lot comes at you, but I'm trying to take it in stride," Hawes says of the recruiting hysteria that has surrounded him. He has been able to manage the process by managing the list of suitors he will entertain. Some time ago he trimmed his list to 12 schools, and recently he narrowed that field to eight.
Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Arizona, Kansas, UConn, Duke and UNC comprise the octet that is still alive. "I'm glad I got my list cut down," he says. "It makes things easier this month. My goal is to get the list next down to five schools - not just because that's the number of official visits you can take, but because I think that is a more manageable number. Then I can look at them in more depth."
Though he has moved efficiently down the recruiting road thus far, the Seattleite is not near a college decision. His plan is to take two or three of his official visits this spring, and then the remainder in the fall. In fact, Hawes says he is set on two official trips he will take in the next month-plus: Stanford and UCLA. Given that he can only take five official visits, and he is aiming to narrow his list to a final five, can we assume that the Cardinal and Bruins are going to make the next cut?
"I wouldn't say that yet," he cautions. "I need to wait until after the visits before I could say that. That's why I want to visit - to see the campus and what life is like there. I want to see all the things I'm not yet familiar with."
Hawes denies that the Cardinal or Bruins are "in" that fabled final five, but he does have a lot he likes about the two programs, plus strong familiarity with the coaches and programs, that have driven him to take the two visits this spring.
Stanford - "I have always loved the school, since the time when I was growing up, for their academics and how great the opportunities are for you after you graduate. Then as I got older, I started to pay attention to basketball, especially the big people. I figured out that they also had this great basketball program. They have Coach Johnson now. He's doing a lot of great things with the program now. They are only headed up. They're selling what I could do there to help now and in the future, how they can prepare me for the NBA, and how they can prepare me for life after the NBA."
UCLA - "You get drawn to their basketball tradition. And L.A. is a city I like and enjoy. The academic side they boast is impressive, too."
"I want to see what life is like down there," Hawes says of his official visit intentions. "I want to see if it is a comfortable place for me. Classes are important. I want to see what all aspects of life are like. I want to sit down with the coaches and see how I fit in their plans for the future."
With that last comment, recruitniks undoubtedly will erupt into a back-and-forth debate about rosters, recruiting classes and style of play at the eight schools still in this race. But Hawes says he can see the pros and cons to many situations.
"There is not one style I need to play. I feel like I'm a versatile guy who can play in a run & gun offense or when you slow it down," he maintains. "Ideally, I'd like to go to a place where I have a chance to play early. If not, there should be a great reason for it - great players in front of me who can help me improve and play at a higher level."
The question lurking in the back of many minds is whether Hawes is traveling anywhere for college. The hometown Huskies are enjoying pinnacle success in their history, both on the floor and in the recruiting wars. Lorenzo Romar won heralded battles last year for both Jon Brockman and Martell Webster - both McDonald's All-Americans and both AAU teammates of Hawes'. With Washington making as big a push as anybody for the Seattle Prep star, are they one of the schools in a more favorable position to land his services?
"I'm not going to deny that," Hawes answers. "They are one of the schools I'm looking at a little more."
"But I'm just trying to look at all this objectively," he adds. "Distance weighs on me a little bit, but my family has told me to not let it be a factor. Those schools outside the Pac-10 are serious contenders, even though they are not on the West Coast."
Another factor hard to avoid is the chatter Hawes hears from his former Friends of Hoop AAU teammates. Brockman and Webster both signed with the Huskies (though the latter may be on the cusp of a jump straight to the NBA), and point guard Mitch Johnson inked with the Cardinal. The bond between those teammates was and remains tight, and the senior trio have served as close confidants while the junior navigates the recruiting process.
"They've helped me out a lot," Hawes praises. "When I have questions, they're who I call first. They do give me little punch lines - they do recruit me a little. But they are all sincere when they say I should do what is best for me."
Johnson has had some specific advice for the big man's official visit plans to The Farm.
"He said to make sure I get to Stanford before their finals. Mitch said don't do your visit during finals," Hawes chuckles. "He's talked about the atmosphere and the guys down there. They are all real nice, and they handle themselves great on and off the court."
While we wait for the 6'11" Seattle standout to schedule his Stanford official visit, there is another aspect of his recruitment to watch. As is true throughout Cardinal recruiting, the admissions application is a telling proxy for the interest and follow-through of a prospect. We have seen more than a few recruits through the years who have talked a big game about their affinity for the Card, but if they never submit the application, then the outcome is sealed. Hawes holds a 3.75 GPA at Seattle Prep and has scored a strong 1220 on his SAT. The junior student-athlete has the Stanford application in his hands and says he is working on it.
"Right now, I'm in the middle of filling out the application. I'll have it in by the summer," he declares. "It's not that big of a deal. It's not that much work. You write a few essays, gather some teacher recommendations and fill in your Social Security Number. It's something well worth it for me to do."
We will continue to keep tabs on the heralded center's progress with the Cardinal. He should have a May official visit scheduled soon, and a completed admissions application to follow. The competition is as stiff as you would expect for a player of Spencer Hawes' caliber, but the way he articulates the basketball and academic benefits of Stanford, you cannot count out the Card.
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