CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Each photo request was followed by another, then another, until Coleman Hawkins finally had to leave the court — roughly 25 minutes into the impromptu photo shoot at Champaign Centennial High School — to meet his team in the locker room following the first game of the Chambana Classic on Friday night.
Fans flocked around Hawkins, a 6-foot-10, three-star forward who is in his second year of playing basketball at Prolific Prep in California. He signed to play basketball at the University of Illinois at the popular Champaign pizza joint, Papa Dells, on Saturday afternoon.
Few, if any, of the students or Illinois fans knew Hawkins, and vice versa. He wrapped his long, lanky arms around each fan asking for a request and smiled for the picture. He knew it was coming. His Instagram messages had been filling up all week with people eager to meet the sweet-shooting forward, and the player who was the first verbal commit to Illinois coach Brad Underwood for the Class of 2020.
Hawkins, who is averaging 12.4 points and 4.8 rebounds this year, is ranked the No. 34 power forward by Rivals, No. 36 by 247Sports, and No. 41 by 247Sports Composite. He is among the top 25 recruits from California, including No. 3 in Northern California by Prep Hoops, and is ranked No. 197 overall by 247Sports and No. 212 in the 247Sports Composite.
He is the second member of the 2020 Illini recruiting class, joining four-star guard Andre Curbelo of Long Island, N.Y., who signed last week. Adam Miller, a priority target and four-star guard out of Chicago Morgan Park, is expected to announce his commitment on Thursday.
The Chambana Classic was designed to get players like Hawkins, who has a large family in the Chicago-area, and his teammate Nimari Burnett, a Texas Tech-signee who is from Chicago and played at Chicago Morgan Park before attending Prolific Prep, a chance to play closer to home. Because of that, most of Hawkins’ family members made the trip down Interstate 57 to see him play in two games over the weekend. After Friday’s game, they stood in front of the right-side bleachers and posed for a picture with Hawkins, that is, until a Centennial student photo-bombed the picture by poking his head through a window in the very back.
For a weekend, Hawkins was a celebrity. On Friday, he scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds while deftly picking his spots to sling the ball around the court, including on a perfectly placed alley-oop to teammate, and the nation’s No. 3 prospect in the Class of 2020, Jalen Green. On Saturday, Hawkins threw down a pair of thunderous dunks to put a stamp on his weekend in Champaign in front of Illinois players Trent Frazier and Kofi Cockburn.
Hawkins was the last player introduced in the Prolific Prep starting lineup and opened the game with a deep 3-pointer. That one felt good, especially with Underwood and assistant coaches Orlando Antigua and Chin Coleman watching from the stands.
As the game went on, Hawkins did a little bit of everything for Prolific Prep.
“Definitely rebounding, that’s what I’ve been working on,” Hawkins said. “Being, not necessarily a role player, but we have Jalen (Green) and Nimari (Burnett) and we have these people who can score. I don’t have to score the ball all the time. I don’t have to have 30 points. If I wanted to do that, I would have stayed at a regular high school, but it would have done nothing for me. Just learning, getting better and working my all around game.”
He said he committed to Underwood on his official visit to Champaign. He fits a need for Illinois as a big man who can stretch the floor and shoot. It’s what the coaching staff told him they like about him, he said. He has to add weight, which head strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher will help with when Hawkins enrolls at Illinois.
When Underwood could publicly talk about Hawkins for the first time on Saturday, he said he liked Hawkins’ all-around game.
“He can stretch the floor with his shooting and passes it really well,” Underwood said in a statement. “But what excites us the most is how he can impact the game on the defensive end. His length and ability to cover will allow him to guard virtually any position on the court.”
Hawkins’ father, Rodney Hawkins, was a standout player at San Diego State — one of the schools in Coleman Hawkins’ final list before he committed to Illinois. Coleman Hawkins knew he would have height; after all, his father is 6-foot-8. But Coleman didn’t want to just be a traditional big man. He worked on his shooting and his passing ability. Repetition, he said, was the key to those skills developing. Once he got a taste for those skills, he liked it.
“I’ve really always kind of worked on shooting 3s and passing, and being similar to a guard, but not just like one,” he said from inside the locker room at Centennial, the last player to leave after a late-night game. “Sharing the ball, once you start doing it and you knock down shots, it’s contagious. Your teammates see that. They’ll start doing it, knocking down shots, trusting you more and just sharing the ball. It’s great.”