By Todd Wills
Corsicana Daily Sun
Harrison Hawkins gathered plenty of important life lessons growing up in Compton, Calif., one of the most famous cities in metropolitan Los Angeles and home of five current NBA players and some of the best hip hop music in the world, N.W.A. being the most world renowned.
Among the credos — keep your head up, be aware of things, understand where you’re from and know you have to represent southeast L.A.
And don’t take anything for granted. That last one, you’ll never see Hawkins disregard.
Hawkins has risen from the end of the bench last season as a freshman to the leader of the Navarro Runnin’ Bulldogs. Navarro’s starting point guard has been their most consistent scorer since the calendar turned to 2013. The 5-foot-10 Hawkins has led Navarro in scoring in five of the last seven games, including a 17-point game in Wednesday’s 79-54 victory over Panola.
Hawkins will be counted on again to score — especially from behind the 3-point arc — when Navarro (22-5, 14-2) plays Kilgore at 4 p.m. Saturday in Kilgore. Navarro can clinch the conference title and an automatic berth to the NJCAA National Tournament next month, and Hawkins has been as big as reason as any why the Runnin' Bulldogs are in this position.
“He’s playing well,” Navarro coach Johnny Estelle said. “That’s what I expect from Harrison.”
The Bulldogs are trying to finish off the Region XIV regular season title with a two-game lead on second-place Kilgore with four games left to go. A victory Saturday over Bossier Parish means Navarro could clinch the regular season title next Saturday at Kilgore.
Hawkins’ rise this season hasn’t been a complete shock — assistant coach Eric Colbert believed he had a potential quality player when he recruited Hawkins out of Compton Centennial High School. But coming off last season, when Hawkins watched as fellow freshmen Johnathan Benn and Keith Smith hogged most of the point guard playing time, he knew he had to work hard and prove himself to Estelle and Colbert.
“Not playing much gave me my drive when I worked out before this season to become better and become mentally stronger,” Hawkins said “I wanted to become the best that I can be.”
Hawkins was in a workout with Centennial alum and Orlando Magic guard Aaron Afflalo — Hawkins’ high school coach, Vadim Malikin, trains NBA players — when Colbert saw Navarro’s future point guard for the first time.
Hawkins recalls Colbert almost missed seeing him workout because of a missed phone call from Centennial assistant coach Wendell Westbrook. Colbert played for Wendell Westbrook at Compton College and his former coach had told him about Hawkins.
“Harrison went so hard,” Colbert said of that day. “He was really talkative, especially for a high school kid. And he was competing. He was trying to show what he could do.”
Hawkins was recruited by some Division II schools — he had qualified academically — but those colleges backed off of him. Navarro swooped in, continuing Colbert’s “Cali Pipeline” that has produced seven Bulldogs in five years, five of them going on to play at four-year colleges.
“(Colbert) sold me on having a chance to play great basketball and getting a good education,” Hawkins said. “I had to take advantage of that opportunity.”
Hawkins redshirted for a semester after high school, then played for the Bulldogs last season. He got some minutes last season, but as Navarro won the regional title and made it to the NJCAA National Tournament, it was Benn and Smith that were two of the biggest catalysts for the Bulldogs.
Hawkins went into this offseason knowing he had to earn playing time by training diligently and focusing on the mental side of the game.
A year older than Smith, his teammate at Centennial, he had played in front of him in high school. Now he was watching Smith, a speedy player on the court, standing out for Navarro.
“They grew up together,” Colbert said. “It was hard on H. But it raised his level of maturity.”
Hawkins has made his own breaks, and caught a few, this season.
Smith is unable to play and hopes to return to Navarro next year. He’s a spectator at most Bulldog games.
Meanwhile, Benn has been hobbled by a foot injury. He’s still a vital part of the team and made an acrobatic layup Wednesday night against Panola, but Harrison has taken over the starter’s minutes at point guard.
Harrison has flourished. He’s made four-game winning shots, including a 3-pointer Saturday in overtime against Paris. It was Harrison’s only 3 of the game — he had made just 1 of 9 shots and was 0-for-5 from behind the arc before swishing a baseline shot. The play was put in for him by Estelle that week during practice.
Harrison is averaging 8.1 points per game, second behind guard Princeton Onwas (11.4 ppg). Harrison is making a team-best 39 percent of his 3-pointers. He leads the Bulldogs with 55 steals. He has superb assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4-to-1).
“His game is smooth as silk,” Colbert said. “He’s solid. He does all of the little things to help you win.”
Hawkins’ 3-point shooting percentage is tell-tale sign of Hawkins’ improvement. Colbert said Hawkins has learned when to shoot the basketball. He knows his spots behind the arc.
Hawkins takes mostly open 3s. Take good shots and Estelle will play you.
“My game has improved a lot as far as shot selection, especially,” Hawkins said. “That’s helped out as far as my shooting percentage.”
Then there’s the mental part of basketball. Estelle determines playing time more on that than physical ability. Hawkins has figured out what it takes to make it at Navarro.
“He understands the system,” Estelle said. “He understands the Navarro brand. He’s been up the ladder and down the ladder. I trust him. He’ll run through a wall for us.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hawkins can learn on his own and from teaching.
He’s a self-taught pianist. His father, Kyles Hawkins, played the guitar in a gospel band when Harrison was growing up. He observed and taught himself how to play.
He had to do so to find a way to perform with his dad and cousins. Hawkins can play gospel and jazz music.
“I learned on my own through my ear and being around music all my life,” Hawkins said. “It just happened to work out.”
He’s taken his willingness to learn, and his toughness on the court and turned into a starter for Navarro.
“He’s arguably the toughest player I’ve ever coached,” Malikin said. “He’s so tough. He’s such a competitor. It’s been an adjustment for him.
“Once he was learned what Coach Estelle wanted, Harrison made a commitment and became the player he is.”
Hawkins won’t stop now. He has to represent Compton and live by the lessons he learned as a kid.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Hawkins said. “I keep working and try to become better.”
Navarro’s SoCal Connection
Navarro assistant coach Eric Colbert has recruited seven players from his Southern California home area for head coach Johnny Estelle and the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Here’s the rundown:
Player Hometown Currently playing
Leon Gibson Watts Houston
Darren Turpin Compton Humboldt State
Greg Allen Eureka USC
Sam Ferguson Lynwood Oklahoma City Univ.
Kierra Beverly Long Beach Bakersfield
Keith Smith Compton Navarro*
Harrison Hawkins Compton Navarro
* Smith played for the Bulldogs in the 2011-2012 season and hopes to return next season for his sophomore year.
Current NBA Players from Compton
Aaron Afflalo Orlando Magic
Tyson Chandler New York Knicks
Demar DeRozan Toronto Raptors
Brandon Jennings Milwaukee Bucks
Tayshaun Prince Memphis Grizzlies
Other famous athletes from Compton:
Bob Beamon, Olympic gold medalist long jumper
Baron Davis, former NBA player
Mike Garrett, Heisman Trophy winner for USC
Dennis Johnson, former NBA player and coach
Marques Johnson, former NBA player
James Lofton, NFL Hall of Famer
Anthony Munoz, NFL Hall of Famer
Eddie Murray, Baseball Hall of Famer
Pete Rozelle, former NFL commissioner
Duke Snider, Baseball Hall of Famer
Dennis Thurman, former Dallas Cowboys safety
Serena and Venus Williams, tennis, 20 Grand Slam titles