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    Tuesday, February 20, 2024

    Craig Hawkins is living his dream watching his son Jordan’s success at UConn

    UConn's Jordan Hawkins makes a no-look pass during the Huskie’s game against Providence in the Big East tournament quarterfinals last week in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
    UConn's Jordan Hawkins (24) shoots over Providence's Corey Floyd Jr. (14) during last week’s Big East tournament quarterfinal game in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    When Jordan Hawkins entered the world, his father showed up at the hospital with a basketball and a dream for his son.

    Craig Hawkins hoped Jordan would eventually share his passion for basketball and pursue a career in the sport.

    From that point on, Jordan started down a path that led to a starring role at UConn and a potential NBA first-round draft choice.

    Hawkins, a sophomore guard, will be making his first NCAA tournament appearance on Friday against Iona in the first round at MVP Arena in Albany, N.Y.

    A top 10 finalist for the 2023 Jerry West Award, he’s considered one of the best shooting guards in the country. He earned his first All-Big East first team honor after not making any preseason teams.

    It took hard work, determination and perseverance for Hawkins to reach this elite level.

    His supportive family, including his mother Jasmine and sisters Alexis, Chynna and Paris, have been there since Jordan’s journey began in his hometown of Gaithersburg, Md.

    “I predicted this since he was a baby,” Craig said. “We spent a lot of time on the basketball court. I knew if you put the work in, if you had the Kobe (Bryant), Michael (Jordan) mentality, success has to happen, especially when you’ve got a kid that never moped.

    “He never cried about anything. Never said, no, I don’t feel like it today.”

    Craig served as Jordan’s coach and trainer, putting his son through grueling workouts and offering encouraging words of advice. They bonded over basketball.

    “He means everything to me,” said Jordan, who wears the same uniform number (24) as Bryant. “My Dad is my best friend. I go to him about anything, not just basketball. He helped me with the college process and helped with my whole basketball life. Everything you see me do is because of him.”

    ****

    On April 29, 2002, the day Jordan Dorrell Hawkins was born, Craig spoke to his son while holding him in his arms.

    “I just need you to be 6-5 and we’re going to take it from here,” Craig said. “The doctor looked at me and said, 'I don’t know about that.’ I said, `Y’all watch, he’s going to be 6-5.’”

    Jordan turned out to be 6-foot-5.

    Craig was determined to help Jordan develop the skills necessary to reach talented heights after falling short of his own dream to play in college.

    The real serious work really began when Jordan turned 13. He expressed a desire to pursue a basketball career. Craig ramped up the intensity of the workouts, some of which took place outside at a local park.

    “I always explained to him, I don’t want this to interfere with our father-son relationship, I’m just preparing you for this world,” Craig said. “I didn’t make it easy for him. I was very hard on him.”

    It took time for Jordan to fully understand the purpose behind some of the “insane” workouts and methods.

    He practiced while wearing uncomfortable strength shoes to help increase his speed, mobility and vertical leap. By his sophomore year in high school, Jordan could throw down some windmill dunks.

    He was well on his way to embracing a relentless work ethic.

    “Ever since I was born, my Dad has stressed hard work, nothing is given to you,” Jordan said. “And my uncles, they preach hard work. If you work hard, you can achieve anything in this world. That’s one thing they definitely pushed.

    “Some days, it was tough. As I look at it now, it all makes sense. If I had to do it again, I’d do the same thing, so I appreciate everything he did for me. I can’t thank him enough.”

    His game took another leap forward after leaving Gaithersburg High School to spend his last two years at powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md.

    As a senior, Hawkins became a consensus top 50 recruit and was named Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year after averaging 19.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.9 blocks.

    His freshman year at UConn didn’t go as he expected due to injuries, including suffering a concussion that sidelined him for the postseason. Still, he showed flashes of his star potential and named to the All-Big East freshman team.

    The Huskies were a better team with Hawkins on the court, and they continue to be this season.

    He’s matured as a player and a person. He’s developed his all-around game, becoming a better defender. He’s mastered the art of using screens to shed a defender and then launch a deadly and smooth jumper.

    His confidence level is off the chart. He doesn’t let a cold shooting spell rattle him. He just keeps shooting.

    “He’s been that way since the day I met him,” junior Andre Jackson said. “He has no conscience. He’s just a straight killer. He doesn’t overthink it. He just goes out there and does what he knows he can do.”

    ****

    Where does Hawkins’ confidence come from?

    Years of hard work and countless hours in the gym.

    “I’ve always been confident in my game,” he said. “I’ve just been working hard. Just getting in the gym brings me confidence. That’s all you need to build your confidence.”

    That mentality has served him well.

    He’s scored at least 20 points a team-best 14 games this season. His scoring average has vastly improved from last season, going from 5.8 to 16.1 points per game.

    Opposing Big East coaches took notice, focusing scouting reports on containing Hawkins.

    “I just think his confidence,” said Providence coach Ed Cooley when asked about where Hawkins has improved the most. “He’s gotten a little bit stronger. He has a lightning quick release and depth on his shot. He’s one of the bigger guards in the country at that position that can get shots off.

    “Let’s face it, when you know the coach is dialing your number up, that gives you a little bit more confidence. He’s a really, really hard guy to defend.”

    Hawkins also gained added confidence from working out for a few weeks last summer with present and former NBA players in the Los Angeles area. There, he met former UConn star Rip Hamilton. He also talked to another Husky great, Ray Allen, earlier this season on campus.

    Both conversations had a big impact on him.

    Hawkins went on a tear during the latter half of the regular season, helping fuel UConn’s strong finish. He scored 19 points in a Big East tournament quarterfinal win over Providence for his team’s ninth win in 10 games.

    The next night, he uncharacteristically struggled, finishing with only five points on 2-for-11 shooting and misfired on a tough potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in a two-point semifinal loss to eventual champion Marquette. He felt like he let his teammates down.

    March Madness gives Hawkins another chance to try to shine on the postseason stage.

    “I’m excited,” Hawkins said. “You always dreamed about it as a kid. It’s going to be fun to play.”

    Coach Dan Hurley and teammates have faith in Hawkins.

    “Jordan is not going to lose sleep before these games,” Hurley said last week. “He’s a gunslinger and he believes that March is going to be a big month for us and a big month for him.

    “I don’t think he has a doubt in his mind that he’s going to get on the big stage and perform at a high level. The more players that have that mentality, the better off you are this month. .. The guys believe in him. We believe in him.”

    You might even say that Hawkins was born to be a star on college basketball’s biggest stage.

    His father would likely agree.

    He’s hoped for this level of success for Jordan ever since arriving at the hospital with a basketball and a dream for his son.

    “To see my son live my dream is incredible,” Craig said. “To see him accomplish that after the work he put in, I’m speechless. There’s nothing that I can say. When he just made first team All-Big East, it brought tears to my eyes because I know what he went through to get there.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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