'Burr in His Saddle'

Spirit, determination, will are just a few of the attributes Spencer Hawes possesses.

Click Here for Photos from Spencer Hawes' Press Conference

Like most kids his age, Spencer Hawes played all sorts of sports growing up. Baseball, soccer, basketball - all American staples for a young boy trying to find the one sport he can truly call his own. Hawes played them all, even dabbled a little bit in lacrosse. But it was his father Jeff's sport - basketball - that eventually caught Hawes' wandering eye and stuck.

Scout.com's national No. 3 prospect, behind only Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, Hawes verbally committed to play hoops for Lorenzo Romar and Washington Tuesday in a hotly-contested recruiting battle with North Carolina and Stanford. He is not the first big-time recruit to come from Seattle Prep (former teammate and current Portland Trailblazer Martell Webster earns that distinction), nor is he the first big-time hoopster from the Seattle area to decide to stay home and play for the Huskies. Just last year, his Seattle Friends of Hoop teammate Jon Brockman - from Snohomish - said thanks, but no thanks to a scholarship offer from Duke to play for Romar.

Hawes did the same thing Sunday night in a phone call to Tar Heel Head Coach Roy Williams. For a 17-year old, having to tell the head coach of the reigning national champs he wasn't coming to Chapel Hill, N.C., was terrifying. "I was dreading having to make that call, but it was something I had to do. You could say it was a little intimidating," said Hawes just after making his verbal commitment public.

Intimidating yes, but certainly not out of Hawes' depth. You see, he grew up in a family of competitors, and his decision to stay at home and help the Huskies with their ascention up the collegiate ranks was nothing but pure guts.

It could have been easy for Hawes to be blown away by the red-carpet treatment during his official visit to North Carolina to the point of just calling it good and announcing his intentions right there and then. No one would have blamed him in the least.

"He could hardly have made a bad choice," said Jeff Hawes, his father. "Carolina basketball is the ultimate. They did a fabulous job recruiting him."

"It was unlike anything I've ever seen," was Spencer Hawes' description of his visit to UNC, where he was able to watch some things take place that he'll always remember - such as the ring ceremony for the 2004-2005 national champions and meeting former Tar Heel Head Coach Dean Smith. You know - the guy they named the "Dean Dome" after.

"In the end I've decided to choose a school which I feel provides me a great opportunity to achieve my goals on and off the court," said Hawes. "I am happy to announce my commitment to the University of Washington."

The news, which Scout.com's Jeff Goodman had broken at least a day earlier, wasn't one that sent shockwaves through the Seattle Prep gym. Instead the hall was filled with genuine emotion from teammates, classmates, friends and family members who were thrilled to see their teammate, friend and son find peace with a decision that was a lot tougher to make than on initial inspection.

Spencer Hawes (Glenn Nelson photo)
It was "7th or 8th grade" when Hawes decided basketball was his calling. He had joined an AAU team as a 12-year-old, the Pacific Northwest All-Stars, a team that included former Seattle SuperSonic Head Coach Nate McMillan's son Jamelle. Later that year they made AAU nationals. "I thought to myself, 'This is probably it, there's probably some substance here,'" said Spencer's mother Lisa.

"I believe that it doesn't matter what your ultimate sport is, you are better off playing a bunch of sports growing up because you develop different motor skills and muscle memory develops differently," said Jeff Hawes. "It shows in the way he plays basketball. He has hand-eye coordination and foot coordination, and this is stuff that is developed over a period of time. And it's not just through basketball."

But Hawes' parents never doubted he would be good at whatever sport he settled on. "He's been competitive since birth, and it's something you can't teach," Lisa Hawes said. "And his parents are that way, so he comes by it naturally."

"Spencer has that burr in his saddle, he wants things to go his way," said FOH Coach Jim Marsh. "That means his team wins, and he'll do whatever it takes. He's a little combustible at times, and that's just the spirit in him. And coaches, we love that spirit."

"You'd get to the point where you would have to tell other parents, 'That's just the way he is.' You can't really stifle it," added Lisa. "That's just the way he's wired and it's served him well. It's what sets him apart."

It's at that point in the conversation when Lisa Hawes sees Brockman cruise into the gym with a purpose. "Oh, there's Brockman!" she said, excitedly. Brockman - now a freshman at Washington - missed Hawes' announcement, but wasn't going to let a workout session stop him from getting to his friend's party without a celebratory hug and some well-wishes he's been bottling up inside for a long time.

"From where he started with Friends of Hoop to now, he's just a totally different player," said Brockman. "He's gotten more athletic. He's gotten stronger. He's gotten taller and he can score from anywhere on the floor."

Marsh has his own observations on Hawes. "He's matured into who I think is the best big man in the game today if he was in college," Marsh said. "And there's certainly nobody in high school that's his equal - including Greg Oden, who is a great player and will dominate the sport wherever he goes in the next ten years - but Spencer has a buffet of moves that's unbelievable. He's spectacular. I coached Tom Chambers in college and he's better than Tom right now at the same stage."

And like Chambers, Hawes has that 'burr'. "If you are going to be an athlete at this level, you have to have that focus to be willing to put in the work to continue to improve," Jeff Hawes said. "And he's got that and he always has had it. He's always had the fire to be the best he could be. He demands that from himself and that's the bottom line."

Hawes' decision to attend Washington wasn't done to appease his family, he said. He'll be the fourth generation on his father's side of the family to call Washington his school of choice, but it wasn't his favorite growing up. He didn't have a favorite, which is ironic considering both his father and his uncle Steve played basketball there and played well. In fact, Steve Hawes was named to Washington's All-Century Team.

Jim Marsh (Glenn Nelson photo)
But family did play a role, as did the role his "other family" played. That is,his basketball family, including the likes of Brockman, Webster and Marsh. "Playing in front of Jim Marsh was important, a lot more important than people think," Lisa Hawes said. "Those two are tight. It's great to have him as a mentor."

Marsh was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in April of 2004, but hasn't let it stop him from leading FOH to two-straight Main Event titles.

"I get to see him more times now than if he went to (North) Carolina, but I would have been just as proud," Marsh said of Hawes' decision. "It's Carolina."

But it's clear in the comments made by Hawes and his family Tuesday they feel that Washington, under the guidance of Romar, has the tools and pieces in place to go as far as they want to. "Spence knows all the guys that are going to all these schools in the elite tier," Jeff Hawes said. "He has friends among a number of the recruits and the level of talent that's out there. He believes that what's at the U-Dub right now is going to be able to compete with everybody, or anybody."

Spencer Hawes said, "I just think it's an opportunity to take the hometown program to a level it's never been to before, be able to be part of building a program to an elite level. That was the knock on the program for a while - if they could keep the kids home they would be a great program. When coach Romar came in, he was able to do that and the rewards are about to be seen."

At North Carolina Hawes saw championship rings and titles galore. At Washington he wants to be a part of the Huskies' first title. "I don't think you should settle for anything less than a national championship," he said. "I think that should always be your goal, and when you've got the type of players and the type of coach there at that program right now, I don't think that would be unreasonable at all."

The Tar Heels had all of that already in place, and Hawes acknowledges that it was hard to turn down instant tradition. "It was a real close decision," he said. "It came down to the last days, to my visit to Washington. Especially on my visit it was tempting, but I had to get home, get settled down and really look at things objectively."

That objectivity came in the form of two more visits, to Stanford and Washington, but it was his trip to Montlake that sealed Hawes' decision.

"I don't think there was one little thing that set it apart, but when I got there, I just felt comfortable with it and it just dawned on me that I knew that this was the place that was best for me and it was the place where I could be successful in my career and in my life growing up," he said.

And Hawes could even be spotted playing a pickup game at Hec Ed - Washington's home basketball court - the day before he was to make his decision public. It appeared he was getting a head start on building some team chemistry, but those who know Hawes know that he's been playing games there for a long time.

"Now it's a bonus, knowing a lot of the guys on the team," he said. That kind of knowledge also extended to Washington's coaches, chief among them Romar.

"What really impressed me about him is the man he is and the character he has off the court," Hawes said of his future head coach. "Obviously he's a great basketball coach, but the integrity he has and the way he treats people is something you can't help but notice and have to take into account."

Now that Hawes' college decision is solidified (he'll be signing during the early signing period in November), it's easy for those on the outside to speculate aloud about his professional prospects. With Marsh's ringing endorsements and the lure of some serious cold, hard cash, it's difficult to imagine Spencer Hawes hanging around the University of Washington campus much longer than a couple of years.

"We want him to get his education, whether all at once or if it's broken up," Jeff Hawes said. "It's really important to us. He's a great student and has a lot of other things going on besides basketball, so that was a critical issue for him."

"I haven't gotten that far yet," Spencer Hawes said. "If it's an opportunity for me and it's a reasonable opportunity, I'll look into it. But right now I'm just focused on college and that whole experience."

So for the student-athlete Spencer Hawes, the first major decision in his life is complete. It wasn't an easy one, and it was one that saw him mature in more ways than one. "I'm happy for him," Jeff Hawes said, because he's happy with his decision and now he can go on and be a kid for a little while longer."

A 6-foot-11 kid, that is, with a buffet of moves and a burr in his saddle.

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