Kelley: Cougs found a gem in Hawkinson

TO CALL STEVE KELLEY a basketball junkie is an understatement. He was a gym rat growing up in Delaware and a fixture at 76ers-Celtics games when Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell ruled the hardwood. He fizzled as a walk on at South Carolina, but grew up to become one of the nation's best NBA beat writers before turning himself into an award-winning columnist.

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The Seahawks and Mariners covered much of his plate over the years, but basketball has always been his game. The game, really.

So much so, that he served as a part-time, volunteer assistant coach this past season at Shorewood High, just north of Seattle.

Having recently retired from the Seattle Times, he now plans to make coaching a regular, rather than passing, part of his life.

Asked for his assessment of incoming Washington State post player Josh Hawkinson, who starred at Shorewood, Kelley gets straight to the point.

"I don't want to put pressure on him, but the sky is the limit," he says. "He's got the potential to be a big-time center in the Pac-12. He's good enough right now that he could have started for the UW this (just-concluded) season … He has enough skills to be a major contributor at a BCS school. There's no doubt in my mind."

Hawkinson is a 6-10, 240-pound honor student with size 19 shoes. He projects as a classic low-post center, albeit a highly athletic one. He can run the floor, work efficiently inside or take it outside. He led the Wesco 3A in scoring this season at 20.1 points per game and was in double-digits in rebounds.

Ben Scheffler, Hawkinson's coach at Shorewood this past season and for four years of AAU ball before that, says the greatest testament to Hawkinson's skill is this:

"If you went through all of Seattle and asked the best players who they'd want as the big man on their team, they'd say Josh."

That respect, he says, was earned in part by Hawkinson's stellar work on his traveling team, Hoopaholics, against national powerhouses like the Michigan Mustangs, L.A. Rockfish, Bob Gottleib's Branch West, and Seattle Rotary Style Select.


BE EXCITED ABOUT HIM, SAYS Kelley. "But be patient too, because young big men often take a little longer to develop," he says. "If he puts in the work, he's got the right skill sets, I think, to be one of the most intriguing freshmen in the Pac-12 next season."

Mind you now, this is not some random guy in the stands who is talking.

Kelley has seen, in person, every great player who has donned a uniform over the last 50 years, from Elgin Baylor to Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan to LeBron James. He's also talked with most of them. As an NBA beat writer he was so respected that best-selling author David Halberstam referred to him multiple times in The Breaks of the Game, one of the finest sports books ever written. As a columnist, Kelley made a career out of his critical eye.

In other words, he's a seasoned basketball observer who assesses objectively and opines with purpose.

"Don't expect 15 points and 8 rebounds a game from him as a freshman, but if he works hard I could see 20 points and 10 rebounds a game when he's as an upper-classman," Kelley says of Hawkinson. "If you have a pure point guard who can get him the ball in the right place, look out."

But points and rebounds aren't what get Kelley most enthused about Hawkinson.

"He's an excellent passer," he says, "To the point he could become as good an outlet passer as Bill Walton or Wes Unseld. That's how skilled he is -- just a great rebounder and out-letter."

Here's how Kelley breaks down the rest of Hawkinson's game:

  • On the boards: "An instinctive rebounder who knows where the ball is going to come off."

  • Defense: "His post defense can get better, but he blocked a lot of shots – he's a natural shot blocker. He can come across the lane, but I've also seen him come from behind too."

  • Strength: "Like any 17-year-old big man, he needs to get stronger. He's still growing into his body. He's not skinny, he's solid, but he certainly doesn't look like Dwight Howard. He needs to spend time in the weight room. In the perfect world, he'd redshirt a year and get stronger."

  • Athleticism: "He has good hands, good footwork – all of which have to get better at the next level, but he's versatile. He can run the floor, handle the ball, score with his back to the basket and also knock down 15-foot jumpers … In a game against Mountlake Terrace, he was just dazzling with everything he did – making steals, driving the length of the court, passing, rebounding …"

  • Character: "He's a really good kid, a great kid, and team captain."

    Wrapping it all together, says Coach Scheffler, are great hands and feet, a passion for the weight room, and a burning desire to succeed at the highest levels.

    So the question begs:

    If Hawkinson has such a big upside, why weren't more schools besides WSU, Santa Clara and San Diego offering him scholarships?

    "He bloomed late," says Scheffler. "He's only 17 and still has that baby face. He started coming into this own as a junior, when he finally figured out the weight room. Wazzu did their research and due diligence. I know they are chomping at the bit to get to work with him."

    Kelley says Hawkinson's star also was dimmed a bit by where he plays. "Shorewood doesn't attract a lot of attention … just missing the state playoffs was too bad because it would have been a nice chance to showcase Josh on a bigger stage … Not having a true point guard also hurt him."

    Hawkinson would have had more offers if he'd waited to spring to fax in his letter of intent rather than wrap up matters during the early signing period back in November, Scheffler said.

    Both Stanford and Cal asked Hawkinson to hold off committing because they wanted to see how his senior season unfolded.

    They missed out, Kelley says.

    "I really don't see anyone like him, with his versatility in the low post, coming up at Arizona, Cal, Stanford … There aren't many around like that … He's got a huge upside. I'll be curious to see how far he takes it. He's going to be good. He could be really, really good, because he can do everything. It's just a matter of putting it all together."


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