Hawkins brings high IQ to Illini, role on team remains unclear

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Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Freshman basketball recruit Coleman Hawkins poses for a headshot.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

Coleman Hawkins is a unique player. The Antelope, California, native can pass and shoot like a guard, in the body of a forward. Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo are the more notable names in Illinois’ 2020 recruiting class, but it’s Hawkins who could be the steal. Let’s break down what makes Hawkins such an intriguing long-term prospect

Basic Info

Hawkins is a 6’10”, 195-pound power forward who spent his high school tenure at powerhouse Prolific Prep. He’s only rated as a three-star by 247Sports and is ranked No. 156 in their database. Hawkins was the first member of the Illini’s 2020 recruiting class, committing in September 2019.

Shooting

Hawkins is a prototypical “stretch four.” He’s an excellent catch-and-shoot player, who has extended range on his shot. Mechanically, his release is a tad low, but it’s hard to block. He does a good job of sliding with the ball-handler to relocate into open spots. At this stage, Hawkins isn’t comfortable shooting threes off the dribble, but he has a nice one-dribble mid-range shot when the defense collapses on him.

Finishing

Hawkins is bizarre around the rim, as he consistently shies away from contact, not always looking to power over defenders. But he makes up for that by having a very good touch around the rim. He’s acrobatic, contorting his body and using his long arms to finish reverse layups. Ultimately, Illinois will need to see Hawkins improve his strength to finish more consistently, but his soft touch is super encouraging.

Passing

Hawkins is a high-IQ player who reads the floor very well. He’s good at snagging rebounds and outletting quickly to his guards. When attacking closeouts, he can get in the paint and find open shooters on the wing.

Here, Hawkins’ shooting gravity sucks in the defense but instead of taking the three, he sees an open cutter on the baseline and floats a pass over the defense for an assist. Illinois ran a lot of high-low action with Giorgi Bezhanishvilli and Kofi Cockburn last season, and Hawkins’ passing ability could bode well in that system.

Ball-handling

Hawkins isn’t much of a creator. He showed some flashes of his handle, which is still impressive for a 6’10” forward, but it’s hard to envision him getting the opportunity to use it much this season. He is good at changing directions in transition. In the half-court, he can get timid with the ball when pressured.

Defense

Coming into watching Hawkins, I knew he was a talented offensive player, but his defense really blew me away. Hawkins is super intuitive, and he makes great defensive rotations, whether it’s to slide over for a weak side shot contest or to take a charge. He uses his length well to disrupt shots. On the perimeter, he showed the ability to stick with guards. He opens his hips very well and has long strides.

However, Hawkins will have to improve on his strength to play inside with Big Ten forwards. He’s super lanky right now and got pushed off his spot fairly easily in high school games.

Overview

For as much praise as I just gave Hawkins, his spot in the rotation remains unclear. He lacks positional versatility, given that he’s too slow to play the three and not strong enough to play the five. Hawkins enters the competition for minutes at the power forward spot with veterans Bezhanishvilli, Da’Monte Williams and sit-out transfer Jacob Grandison.

In a non-COVID world, Illinois would have a plethora of easier opponents on their schedule, and Hawkins would have more opportunity to showcase his skillset. But with less games, and the Illini in a “win now” mode, there’s a chance it’s the less experienced Hawkins who doesn’t see a lot of time at the four. He’s theoretically a great fit next to Cockburn with his ability to shoot and pass the ball inside, but his body lacks the strength needed to compete in high-level games right now.

Nonetheless, I remain high on the California native. His offensive abilities and IQ in a 6’10 body don’t come around too often. With a year of training with strength coach Adam Fletcher, Hawkins could be an All-Big Ten player down the line.

 

@BrandonSimberg

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