PULLMAN – The Pac-12’s leading rebounder grew up in Shoreline, about 15 minutes north of the University of Washington, where he regularly attended football and basketball games as a child. He attended the school’s elite basketball camps. His mother played basketball there, and he remembers keeping statistics at her alumni games – “I was a pretty big Husky growing up,” he says now.
But Josh Hawkinson was also, by his own admission, “a late bloomer,” even as he averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks per game as a senior at Shorewood High School.
“I was long and lanky,” Hawkinson said, “and hadn’t really grown into my body as much.”
So the Huskies didn’t recruit him.
And – hindsight now 20/20 – they probably should have.
Instead, Hawkinson committed to Washington State, the only Pac-12 school to offer him a scholarship. That proved to be a wise decision for both parties: now a sophomore, Hawkinson is the only Pac-12 player averaging a double-double, scoring 14.4 points and grabbing 10.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-10 forward is tied for sixth nationally with 15 double-doubles this season, and after playing just 6.4 minutes per game as a freshman in 2013-14, he’s essentially a lock for the conference’s most improved player award.
The Huskies (14-11, 3-10 in Pac-12) will get another glimpse on Sunday of what they probably could have had, visiting Washington State (11-14, 5-8) here for a 5:30 p.m. game at Beasley Coliseum.
“I’ll be the first to tell you, we did not see him being a double-double guy his sophomore year in college,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He’s done a remarkable job, and their staff has done a remarkable job with him.”
Romar said he has a good relationship with Hawkinson’s father, Nels, the executive director of Basketball Travelers, a well-known college and high-school basketball tournament and tour organizer.
But despite Josh’s lifelong UW fandom, Romar said simply that “we didn’t really recruit him that hard, to tell you the truth.”
They weren’t alone. Hawkinson said that besides WSU, his only offers came from a pair of WCC schools – Santa Clara and San Diego – and that California and Stanford showed increased interest only after he committed to the Cougars.
(For reference, the Huskies took five players in their 2013 recruiting class – high-school prospects Nigel Williams-Goss, Darin Johnson and Jahmel Taylor, junior-college transfer Mike Anderson, and Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw, the lone big man of the group. Upshaw and Taylor are no longer on the team.)
Hawkinson mostly sat on the bench during his first season at WSU, under then-coach Ken Bone. When Bone was fired and WSU hired Ernie Kent to replace him, Hawkinson met with the new coach to discuss what his role might be as a sophomore.
Hawkinson told him he figured he’d set screens and rebound, like he did as a freshman. Kent balked at that.
“He told me that he wanted me to be more of a scorer,” Hawkinson said. “I was kind of taken aback by that. We were watching tape and everything, and I saw how big of a factor his 4s were, like Maarty Leunen at Oregon. I saw how much of a factor I could be offensively, scoring inside and out.”
He dedicated his offseason to trimming the baby fat that slowed him as a freshman – he says he lost about 20 or 25 pounds – and working himself into better condition. As a result, he’s become the conference’s top rebounder and his team’s second-leading scorer – and he’s not just cleaning up junk around the hoop.
According to Hoop-math.com, a website that analyzes advanced statistical data, only 30 percent of Hawkinson’s field-goal attempts come at the rim. He has a smooth, accurate jumper that makes it difficult for opposing big men to defend him on the perimeter. And he shoots 84.3 percent at the free-throw line.
In other words: he’s the kind of big guy the Huskies, losers of seven consecutive games, could really use right now.
Romar puts Hawkinson in the same category as Luke Sikma, another post player from the Seattle area – he played at Bellevue High School – to whom the Huskies chose not to offer a scholarship, and then went on to a productive college career at the University of Portland.
“You always do that,” Romar said, asked if he regrets not recruiting a player like Hawkinson. “You always think that you had that opportunity. … There are so many guys out there – a Russell Westbrook, a guy like that, that was under-recruited and ends up being the fourth pick in the draft. And (Hawkinson) is one of those. I think the last guy that was like that, that I remember, was Luke Sikma. And I think Luke Sikma was maybe even further along in high school than Hawkinson was. But he went on to Portland and became a really good basketball player.
“Hat’s off to Hawkinson, because he’s something to deal with.”
He’s also a Cougar through and through.
“I was only like five miles away from UW,” Hawkinson said, “so you’ve got to have a little chip on your shoulder that says, ‘why weren’t you recruiting me?’ But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, because I’m still playing in the Pac-12, and I’m blessed because of that.”
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple