For WSU's Hawkinson, head starts are the norm

PULLMAN – Cougar freshman forward Josh Hawkinson will don No. 24 this season in tribute to his mother Nancy, who wore it as a hoops star at Washington. And his plans to make an impact this season at Washington State will come with his mom and dad sporting their Cougar gear in the crowd – something nearly unthinkable a few months back.

"(She) said she's going to wait until I actually start playing before she wears all of her Cougar stuff," Hawkinson told in a recent interview. "We tried to wean her on (WSU), get her all the Cougar stuff during Christmas after I committed -- that's what a lot of the Christmas presents were.

"She'll get there. I heard her say ‘Go Cougs' and I was astonished."

Hawkinson (6-9) grew up playing against his mother -- and his father who also was a basketball player at Trinity Western. Those early ‘games' lit a fire.

"They continue to push me to be better throughout basketball and in life," said Hawkinson. "They both played overseas so after college I've always wanted to play professionally… that had a big influence on me. My dad's always worked with me in the post until he couldn't play me anymore. He tried to say he would get me until I was 15, but I think it was around 12 or 13 when I started beating him."

THERE WEREN'T MANY guys his size at Shorewood High in Shoreline but Hawkinson, somewhat like the early playing time against mom and dad, also got a head start on preparing for his true freshman season at WSU.

"I'd come over a bunch during the spring after my high school season was over," Hawkinson said. "I'd come over on the weekends and we'd do one-on-one post moves with all the big guys. This year, it's been a good experience playing against Jordan, James (Hunter) and Junior (Longrus). Playing against them just makes you really better."

Those weekends helped, no doubt, but the physicality of the college game remains an adjustment for Hawkinson. He said he looks forward to the challenge of going toe-to-toe with the other big men in the conference, and especially in facing off against in-state rivals Washington and Gonzaga. What's sure to come in handy during those matchups are his daily battles with Jordan Railey.

"They've been good," said Hawkinson. "He's tall and really athletic so you have to be strong and physical with him. He's a big presence in the paint so working with him makes you tremendously better."

HAWKINSON SAID HIS desire to be dual-threat big man comes from a mix of hard work and studying the guys who do it the best.

"I've always be watching Kevin Love's highlights, I like to watch him," said Hawkinson. "He's a great outlet guy, great shooter, really physical down in the post. He can play inside and out so that's one of the guys I try to model my game after.

"I think it's huge to have versatility, to be able to do more than one thing. I think it's a big part of the game now these days."

DURING PRACTICE, THE COUGS have been mixing up different groups and trying out various rotations during scrimmages but because of D.J. Shelton's experience, Junior Longrus' athleticism plus Railey's 7-0 frame, Hawkinson will have to fight for his minutes. Bone said recently he can envision Hawkinson and Longrus getting 10-20 minutes a game – if they earn them.

"I feel like I'm ready. I'm making good strides in practice, working defensively and offensively, getting adjusted to the new concepts and everything," he said.

HAWKINSON HAD OTHER scholarship offers from Santa Clara and San Diego but ultimately it was the WSU atmosphere, and Ken Bone's reputation for developing players, that drew him to the Palouse.

"Coach Bone and all of the assistants he has here so far have done a great job of getting me better each and every day and that's something I look forward to," said Hawkinson. I think defensively I've seen the most improvement, staying low, getting in the right positions. I've got a long way to go but instead of just being a shot blocker you can take a charge and things like that and be in the right rotations.

"I feel like defensively that's what I've worked on and gotten better at the most."

CONDITIONING IS GOING to be an even bigger key than normally this season for every member of the Cougar roster because of the new on-the-ball defensive style WSU is implementing. And along the way to becoming a better player, Hawkinson said he's been dedicating time to hitting the weight room and working on his body. Since high school he said he has slimmed down and gained about 20 pounds of muscle.

With that new style of play the Cougars have adopted, the outlet passing of the big men is going to be essential to igniting fast breaks. Fortunately for the Cougs, Hawkinson said that is one of his specialties.

"I still feel like I'm a good outlet passer - just getting rebounds and looking up the court and if they aren't there, then pass it to a guard," said Hawkinson. You have to make sure your vision is up so you can see the entire court. It's definitely important because your guards can leak out and you can find your targets down court and get easy baskets on fast breaks. It's one of my strengths, I feel like I have a lot of other things but it's one of them.

"For a big guy, I have a pretty good mid-range game, shoot a pretty consistent jumper. I have good touch around the rim and I like to consider myself a good rebounder too."

Inside penetration from guards Ike Iroegbu, Royce Woolridge and Que Johnson should allow for plenty of drive and kick opportunities for the Cougar big men. Hawkinson said it won't necessarily be something drawn up specifically for him but expressed confidence that fans can expect to see his scoring prowess from mid-range distance this season.

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