When David Hawkins arrived at Temple in 2000, he joined a veteran squad that would ultimately make a late run at the end of the season and claw their way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Hawkins, who started on that squad, fondly remembers the magic of playing deep into March.
Since that improbable run two years ago, Temple has failed to earn a NCAA bid. Hawkins, a senior guard, has put up some impressive numbers throughout his career but the only number Hawkins is concerned with is 65. That’s the number of teams selected for the NCAAs.
“For one reason, I want to get back there because it’s my last year playing,” he said. “It’s an experience like no other and I only experienced it one time my freshman year.”
As the lone senior and only player on the roster with NCAA tourney experience, Hawkins continues to see his role expand on a team with eight freshmen and sophomores. Since the summer the Owls have been practicing together at informal workouts and pick-up games.
Hawkins had a leadership role on last year’s squad, but this year is different. Hawkins admitted he tried to lead more by example last year. This season he plans on being more of a vocal leader. He’s certain this squad has the ability to earn a bid to the Big Dance.
Hawkins posted career-highs with 16.9 points per game, 85 steals, and a 78 percent free throw percentage as the Owls finished the season 18-16. Hawkins is also on track to be one of only three players in school history to average double-digits in each of his four seasons. The only other players to do so are Aaron McKie and Marty Stuarsky.
“He came back with a lot of verve,” coach John Chaney said. “The guy is just working hard. He really bulked up a lot. He’s strong. He just seems to be a much better basketball player than what he was in the last few years.”
At the end of every season Chaney meets with each player to discuss what he needs to improve during the off-season. Chaney asked Hawkins to work on closing out games. The Owls won five of six games decided by five points or less last season.
“Being smarter, practicing how to win games,” Hawkins said. “Not playing as careless as you would in the beginning of the game. So that’s not really something you can really work on, it’s something you got to instill in your mind.”
There still is room for improvement and Hawkins is putting the onus squarely on his husky shoulders. Before and after summer classes he worked up to five hours a day on his shooting.
By developing a better jump shot, Hawkins is making himself a more deceptive player. Opponents will have a more difficult time guarding him since driving to the basket is also a strong part of his game. Last season the 6-foot-5, 230 pound Hawkins led the Owls in free throw attempts.
“His strength and driving to the basket is very hard to stop once he makes the decision he’s going to go,” Saint Joseph’s junior guard Delonte West said, “Now that he’s added a jump shot, he’s dangerous.”
Hawkins described his modus operandi: “Keep my elbows in. And because I’m pigeon-toed, to keep my feet straight and square and just get repetition in. Because there is no perfect form for a J [jump shot] it’s how comfortable you are with it.”
Another matter Hawkins is getting comfortable with is life as a married man. On Nov. 1 he was excused from practice to attend his wedding ceremony in Washington D.C. For Hawkins, it was a long time coming.
During his freshman year he proposed to his girlfriend Akilah. She said yes.
“I always knew that was going to be the woman I was going to marry,” Hawkins said. “The time has come that I’m becoming a man, I think, so there’s no going back.”
Nothing has yet to change since the wedding ceremony, Hawkins said.
Ever since he left D.C. for Temple he and Akilah have maintained a long distance relationship. Despite the change in his marital status, Hawkins goes to school and plays basketball, while Akilah works and watches their two kids, Nico who is 6 and Trinity who is 2.
Hawkins said he visits them in D.C. on weekends and during the season they visit and attend as many of his games as possible.
“It’s not different. It’s something more that has been lifted off my chest,” he added.
Hawkins said some of his teammates joke with him about his new position as a husband. Especially since not too many undergraduate students are married with kids. Still, Hawkins is the general out on the court.
Sophomore forward Antywane Robinson likes the approach Hawkins has taken in his leadership role. Robinson said Hawkins instructs teammates in a helpful manner and avoids condescending lectures.
“I really respect him for that because when I came in here I kind of had a grasp [of what to do] and he pointed it out, all of what it was,” added Robinson. “I really respect that as a leader out of him, and everybody else on the team does too.”
Besides, the only person giving players long, drawn out lectures is Chaney.
Jason Haslam can be reached at email@example.com.