Ernie Kent has had his eye on Josh Hawkinson for a while.
Back in 2012-13, Kent was in his final year as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network. He scouted a Washington State University men’s basketball practice under former coach Ken Bone.
Kent kept looking at the skyscraping, little-used freshman on the side whom the Cougars were intent on developing into a low-post player.
Except that Hawkinson, out of Shorewood High School, kept making a bunch of 3-pointers after practice.
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“I watched him shoot around and do some things, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Wow, his skill set is really good,’ ” Kent said. “He had soft hands. He could shoot it. He understood post play … but I am always one who thinks about playing to someone’s strengths rather than make them something (else).”
Bone was fired after that season. Kent — who spent 13 seasons at Oregon — took over the job. And one of the first conversations he had with a WSU player was with Hawkinson.
“One of the first things I told him was he wasn’t a back-to-the-basket, low-post player that needed to put on 20 pounds or so,” Kent said. “He was a guy who needed to play his own game — and that was like a European ‘stretch’ (power forward).
“A big smile came across his face — and I have been smiling ever since.”
In his first season as a full-time starter, the 6-foot-10 Hawkinson was the only player in the Pac-12 to average a double-double — 14.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game — in playing second fiddle to DaVonte Lacy. Hawkinson’s 20 double-doubles broke Jim McKean’s school record of 17 set in 1967.
Lacy is gone, and Hawkinson is currently the face of the program. The 4-0 Cougars host 13th-ranked Gonzaga on Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum.
But Hawkinson warns he isn’t planning on changing his game by asking for the basketball more or taking more shots.
“I’ll kind of continue to do what I did last year, and not push it,” he said. “DaVonte could take guys one-on-one, and that was a big part of our offense as the primary scorer. I fill a role by finding open lanes and taking open shots. I don’t force anything.”
Hawkinson has seen an uptick in scoring (18.0 ppg) and field goal attempts (nearly 14 shots per game) over last season. He is also shooting 55 percent from the floor.
But as Kent says: “He has the green light to shoot it as much as he wants.”
Hawkinson knows he does not have the appearance or presence of one of the conference’s brightest stars. He never has.
“I don’t have the ‘wow’ factor,” Hawkinson said. “That has been a thing for my entire life because I have a baby face. I look like I am 12 and in middle school. I am not overly big, explosive or athletic.
“There are a lot of guys who can dunk between their legs, or do a 360 (dunk) or other kinds of athletic moves. I do the little things that no one really notices. I quietly put up numbers.”
Make no mistake — Hawkinson is a better athlete than he looks. Besides being a four-year letterman at Shorewood in basketball, he earned two letters in baseball.
And now he has a new sports addiction — golf.
Teammate Brett Boese introduced him to golf earlier this year. At first, the two would play at the University of Idaho Golf Course, and Hawkinson struggled to break 120.
Now, he is shooting in the high 80s. And late in the summer, he recorded his first eagle on a par-5 hole at Palouse Ridge Golf Club, hitting a 4-iron approach to finish near the hole.
“It was a tap-in eagle,” he said with a smile.
He has new clubs, a Nike golf bag and balls — and a Cougar ball marker.
“It is hard to get that fix in now,” he said.
WEDNESDAY: No. 13 Gonzaga (4-1) at Washington State (4-0), 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1, 710-AM