He's Got Next
This article appears in the December 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Whether or not you agree with Spencer Hawes' politics, you've got to love the boldness behind his insistence that he could handle the stress of the White House.
"Do I think I could handle the pressure of the West Wing? No doubt," says Hawes, a 7-foot, 230-pound senior center at Seattle Prep who is rated the nation's No. 6 hoop recruit in the Class of 2006 by SchoolSports.com.
It may not be the West Wing, but Hawes knows a thing or two about pressure. After all, he's following in the footsteps of former Seattle Prep teammate and current Portland Trail Blazers rookie Martell Webster, who went straight from high school to the NBA as a lottery pick this past summer. Not to mention that an amazing five of the top 30 hoop recruits in the nation last year hailed from Greater Seattle, including Friends of Hoop AAU teammate Jon Brockman of Snohomish.
But Hawes doesn't worry about the pressure. Instead, he talks with reverence about how much witnessing that group's rise has helped him rise more comfortably. He's the first guy to admit he's standing on the shoulders of giants. Which, incidentally, would make for an awfully tall guy.
"There's no doubt I've benefited from watching them go through their own experiences of recruiting and the attention they got," says Hawes, who'll play his college ball at Washington, where Brockman is now a freshman forward and where Webster committed before opting for the NBA. "Not so much the big things like the people and the process and dealing with outside influences. I kind of got that already. But the little things I watched them do — things you almost picked up instinctively from them that allowed me to handle things better because I picked them up.
"Those guys didn't let the process get to them," continues Hawes, who averaged 16.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game for the 19-5 Panthers last season. "They didn't let it change them as a person. They let it be part of them, but it didn't become all that they were about. They maintained a somewhat regular life after everything came along."
Of course, regularity isn't often a circumstance that exists in the lives of the nation's best basketball players. And Hawes' life isn't likely to stay "somewhat regular" for long. He's too big and too good.
"What makes him unique is his athleticism at his height," says Seattle Prep second-year head coach Michael Kelly, 33. "Coaches are always talking about 7-footers as ‘projects.' Not Spencer. He's got the same agility as the 5-foot-10 kid on this team. I hate to make comparisons, but he honestly reminds me as a young kid of (Boston Celtics Hall of Famer) Kevin McHale with the variety of moves he has with the ball on the blocks. That said, Spencer's skill set is such that he could add a whole 'nother dimension with his outside game."
Hawes has benefited from some great bloodlines, too. His father, Jeff, played at Washington from 1972-74 and his uncle, Steve, played 10 seasons in the NBA. That influence has made both a general and a specific developmental impact on his game.
"From day one, I've always been around basketball, so it's really in my blood," says Hawes, who will turn 18 on April 28. "Whenever I needed someone to [help] fight a problem or correct something, I had it. That kind of advantage grows on itself over time. I think the biggest things in particular that I get from my dad and my uncle are the hook shot and the equal use of both my left and right hand. Those are things I saw early on from them."
Hawes has a habit of dispensing praise a lot more readily than he indulges in it. That's part of what makes him so likeable. Another delightful trait is his honesty.
Take, for example, the genuineness of his response to questions about how the institution of an age minimum in the NBA this past summer has robbed him of the opportunity to go straight from high school to the pros, as his former teammate, Webster, did less than a year ago.
"It was a little bit annoying, sure," says Hawes. "It would have been something I would have liked to experience. To sit down with my family and make that decision between us. It would have been nice to have been able to consider that option. If anything, I think I'll look back on this route as a positive, though. When the time comes — knock on wood — for me to be considered for the draft, I think I'll be more ready to take the next step."
Heart. Humility. Honesty. That's quite a package. Not that he's satisfied just yet.
"It's not enough to have everything, you've gotta go get it," says Hawes. "If it's there for the taking, you've gotta pull it all together and become that player. If you have the talent and put the time in, you'll get results."
Hawes has definitely gotten results. But the guy is so down to earth that he says he didn't really consider himself a serious big-time prospect until he proved it this summer playing for his AAU team.
"You can't judge how good you are until you play against the top talent," says Hawes. "I'd done it in practice, yeah. But when you finally do it on the floor in a competition situation of a game and see that you cannot only survive but have success against the top talent, well, that's when you start to think you can really go somewhere."
Count coach Kelly among those who know Hawes is headed somewhere.
"He's as good as any prospect in the country," says Kelly. "His faculty with handling the ball with either hand means he'll eventually be capable of consistently playing on the perimeter. But you put some weight on that body and the upside is sky high."