By Andrew Kahn
After Ernie Kent was hired as Washington State’s head coach, he watched film with his 6’10” power forward Josh Hawkinson. They didn’t view any clips from Hawkinson’s freshman season, in which he only averaged six minutes a game. Instead, they watched tape from Kent’s days at Oregon, specifically how he used power forward Maarty Leunen. “Coach thought I could model my game after what he had done,” Hawkinson says. “Playing inside-out, rebounding, making outlet passes.” The 6’9” Leunen averaged 15 points and nine rebounds a senior for Kent in 2007-08, and was a second-round NBA draft pick. Hawkinson is at 15 points and 10.8 rebounds this season.
There may not be a player in the country who has benefited more from a coaching change this season than Hawkinson. Last year under Ken Bone, he averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds for a slow, low-scoring offense. Enter Kent, who had been out of coaching for four years after a successful 13-year run at Oregon. “The way we play, the two toughest positions for us to find are point guard and the four man,” Kent says. “The four man has to be able to stretch the floor with his shot, rebound, put it on floor, pass. He has to be very skilled. Sure enough, that’s what Josh Hawkinson is. He’s perfect for how we want to play.”
What keeps him on the floor is his rebounding. He leads the Pac-12 in rebounding and is second in the country in defensive rebounding rate, due largely to his feel for where a missed shot will end up. Kent says he’s so good on the boards that he can give his teammates a false sense of security, occasionally causing them to leak out on offense too early.
Offensively, Kent knew Hawkinson’s strength was not as a back-to-the-basket player, so he gave him the freedom to play on the perimeter more. In one season, he’s gone from primarily a screen setter to a player just narrowly behind senior guard DaVonte Lacy for the team lead in shot attempts. Last night in a close loss against California, Hawkinson usually started offensive sets on the elbow, where he could pick and pop or simply roam to an open spot on the floor. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds though he shot just 6 for 18 from the field. Kent says he’s one of the best shooters on the team, but he hasn’t shown it yet in games, going 0 for 15 from deep in Pac-12 play. Kent thinks the major uptick in minutes is taking a toll on Hawkinson, who did lose 25 pounds in the offseason to get in better shape (he’s now at 245 pounds).
The next phase in Hawkinson’s development is defense. “I’m going to have to guard guys quicker, more athletic than me, so I need to work on my lateral quickness,” he says. That, and hone his outside shot. Leunen was a career 40 percent three-point shooter and hit 49 percent his final college season. “My midrange jumper has been pretty consistent,” Hawkinson says. “I’m not trying to change my shot. I’m still confident.”
And why shouldn’t he be? Kent and his staff have transformed him from a little-used role player to a focal point of their rebuilding effort. What a difference a year makes.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.