Hangin' With Hawk

Good things come to those who wait
by: Trevor Mitchell, rockets.com

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch


Many good teams in the NBA have role players that complement their marquee stars. These special players do the intangible things that often do not fill up a stat sheet, but are needed to pull out a win in the NBA. The Los Angeles Lakers have veteran Robert Horry. Philadelphia has Aaron Mckie and Eric Snow.

Led by Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets are seldom in need of another star. However, on many nights the team relies on one of the newest faces on the roster to give them a spark with his energy and defensive prowess. This season's instant spark plug for the Rockets is 29-year-old rookie Juaquin Hawkins, a 6-7, 205-pound rookie swingman from Lynwood, California.

Hawkins, nicknamed "Hawk," arrived in Houston without the fanfare and expectations of his fellow rookie Yao Ming. There was no caravan of limousines awaiting him at the airport. There was no group of well-wishers lined up to get a glimpse of him. Similar to a stealth bomber, for years Hawkins went undetected on the NBA's radar screen.

To understand the evolution of Hawkins, one must begin learning the journey he has endured over the past five years. After playing alongside current Wizards forward Bryon Russell for a while at Long Beach State, Hawkins went undrafted in the 1996 NBA Draft. He spent the preseason with the Los Angeles Lakers, but experienced the misfortune of being the final cut on the roster.

Focused on playing basketball, Hawkins tried out for the Hung Fu Rams in Taiwan. He made the Rams roster and earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. In 1997 Hawk spent the season with the Long Island Surf of the United States Basketball League. He also played with Chong Ching of the China Basketball Association. During 1998 he played the preseason with the Los Angeles Clippers, but was once again the last player cut.

"Hawk" then received the opportunity to tour with the Harlem Globetrotters between 1998-99. Next, the California native took his talents to the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association. Hawkins has also had stints in Japan and the Philippines, as well as with the Global Sports Exhibition Team. Hawkins' big break came last year while playing for the Southern California Surf in the ABA2000. His coaches with the Surf were former Rockets players Scott Brooks and Earl Cureton, who recommended that the Rockets take a look at Hawkins.

Head Coach Rudy Tomjanovich and his staff liked what they saw and decided to give him a shot. In late September, Hawkins signed with the Rockets as a free agent and was invited to training camp.

"They told me that they had one spot open on the team," said Hawkins. "That's all I needed to know."

"Hawk" impressed Coach Tomjanovich and staff with his ability and hustle and was granted a contract. “The first person I called was my mother,” said Hawkins. “She just immediately started crying. I started crying. She knows that I worked so long and hard to just get an opportunity, so it was definitely tears of joy.”

In the Rockets' October 30 regular season opener in Indiana, Hawkins was in awe of the entire NBA experience. “First of all I’ve never even seen a Ritz Carlton before. I even got my own room,” he said. “In the ABA and CBA you have to share a room. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the game. I couldn’t grasp the fact that I had actually made it. It was a good feeling.”

In his rookie season "Hawk’s" minutes have varied from game to game. He has started 10 games so far, mostly during Mobley’s absence due to an ankle injury. On two occasions Hawkins logged 39 minutes in a single game. On the other hand, he has not seen any action in a few of this year’s contests.

Hawkins registered a career-high 14 points against Michael Jordan and the Wizards.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

“I don’t get into all of that,” said Hawkins. “I may not be the best shooter or dribbler, but when I get on the court I’m going to make a difference. Whether it’s taking a charge, or getting a big steal, I’m going to put my team in a spot to be successful. That’s what I consider myself - a specialist. I’m comfortable with that role.”

The pinnacle of "Hawk’s" road to success happened when he dropped a career-high 14 points on Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards. “That was the second game I started and I wanted to prove that it was no fluke that I made this team,” he said. “The greatest player alive was out there playing and that in itself was a big challenge for me.”

The play of Hawkins has impressed other players around the league as well. Scottie Pippen, Bonzi Wells, and most recently Gary Payton have spoken to “Hawk” about keeping up the good work.

“Gary is one of my idols,” said Hawkins. “Many people don’t realize how hard it is to play defense. Gary is one of the few people in the league that wants to be known as a defensive player. So words coming from him just makes everything seem worthwhile.”

Hawkins' travels can also be described on a tattoo he has on his left arm. The tattoo is a bird (hawk) with his nickname written underneath.

“The picture of the hawk symbolizes me flying through many places around the world and being a part of different cultures," he said. "It also serves as a reminder of my carefree spirit and my appreciation of how far I’ve come.”

As Hawkins continues to prove he can play in this league, he has two main goals that he is determined to achieve. “I want to help this team get back to the playoffs and it would be great if I could lead all rookies in steals,” he said. “Its going to be hard, but we’ll just take it one day at a time and see what happens.”

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

As the season goes on, the Rockets from time to time will look to "Hawk" to provide whatever they are in need of off the bench. Being comfortable in his role of doing the little things, there is little doubt that he will deliver. Houston fans have quickly taken to the headband-wearing forward’s hustle and great personality.

“I definitely love Houston,” said Hawkins. "This city has already become a home away from home for me."

The idea of a 29-year-old rookie in the NBA is quite rare. Even more amazing is that "Hawk" remains level-headed and grounded when his basketball career is flying so high. Not focused on the fancy cars and flashy jewelry of many NBA stars, Hawkins has his eyes on improving his game and making more contributions to the Rockets. Taking so long to make the NBA has given him a genuine appreciation for hard work and demeanor of a common man.

“I’m happy but not satisfied,” said Hawkins. “Each and every time I get on the floor I say a little prayer to say thanks to God for the opportunity that I have. This entire year has been truly a blessing for me.”

After all, good things come to those who wait.


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