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Honors aside, Hawkins ready to help Aggies make title run

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From page B8 | November 03, 2013 |

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UCD teammates Corey Hawkins (3) and Tyler Les — who have known each other since they were kids — walk back to the bench after a big play in a game last season. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

He comes by this scoring thing honestly, does UC Davis guard Corey Hawkins.

Hawkins’ dad Hersey is a former NBA shooter who is the NCAA’s seventh all-time career point-maker (3,008).

Putting the ball in the basket is in the UCD junior’s blood. Case in point, he led the Big West Conference last season with a 20.3 points-per-game average.

Now, with enough ironic/poignant story lines to fill a reality series, Hawkins and Aggie head coach Jim Les are about to embark on some very serious basketball.

Before getting down to brass tacks later in the week, Aggie fans get a preview Monday of what’s in store as UCD entertains Menlo College in an exhibition game. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at The Pavilion and admission is free.

The regular season begins Friday at Portland State and continues with the home opener against Holy Names (Oakland) on Nov. 11.

Hawkins, meanwhile, has been on everyone’s watch list after his All-American season helped give UCD a plus-nine jump in the win column (the Aggies finished 14-17 after a 5-21 campaign in Les’ first season).

To no one’s surprise, Hawkins has been chosen for the All-Big West preseason team after collecting oodles of other off-season honors.

NBC Sports and CollegeInsider.com have named Hawkins among the top players in the nation and he’s one of the few so-called mid-major players to be included on the Lute Olson Preseason All-American list.

Beside being the Big West scoring champ, Hawkins was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year.

Do all these awards mean anything to Hawkins?

“I honestly don’t pay much attention to it,” the 6-foot-3 organizational studies major told The Enterprise. “I feel like I’m the last person to find out when I’ve won an award. It’s always nice to have awards, but they’re more so for my mom (Jennifer) … all the plaques and trophies, she can hang ’em up somewhere at home.”

Hawkins added: “(Awards) don’t do anything for me because I’m concerned with winning, doing the best I can to help this team get better.”

So far, so good. That nine-win jump in one season was the 10th-best improvement in the NCAA.

“To his credit, he’s maintained a workman-like demeanor and hasn’t gotten caught up in all the (hype),” said Les, who played with Hawkins’ father at Bradley in the 1980s. “He’s stayed true to who he is, which is a credit to mom and dad.

“He’s very grounded, very conscious of his teammates and in making sure the perception of him among his teammates hasn’t changed, despite all the attention.”

The Hawkins-Les family connections run deep …

Early on, there were those days when the dads fueled Bradley’s high-octane offense (many of Hawkins’ points came off dishes from Les).

Later, as Hersey and Jim were making their marks in the NBA, the duo also were giving back to the Peoria, Ill., region by making appearances and conducting clinics and camps in under-served areas. (Running around the gym in those days were a couple little kids, Corey Hawkins and Tyler Les.)

Now, 15 years later, Corey and Tyler are still running around the gym together, this time at The Pavilion as the younger Les is a senior guard for the Aggies.

“It’s been really great,” Tyler Les reported about being reunited with one of his best friends. “It’s really crazy how life comes full circle. We talk about the old days, how we would be in the gym all day.

“Now that we’re in college, it’s been great — playing with him as a player and having him as a friend.”

So what has having Corey Hawkins in the fold meant to the Aggies as a team?

“Words can’t express what he means to this program,” Tyler Les explained. “He’s the leader, he’s the captain — the face of the program — and we’re lucky to have him, not only on the court, but off the court.

“He’s a great guy and makes sure everyone is being taken care of. (Look) at his leadership in practice: he’s the hardest worker, making sure he’s got everything down so that way we can follow him.”

And like father, like son, here’s another Les feeding another Hawkins for another long-range launch.

“He means the world to me,” Corey said of BFF Tyler. “Especially first coming out here … When you transfer in, you’re alone except for your teammates.”

Corey said Tyler helped “get me acclimated to campus, to town … and I can’t thank him enough. Off the court, he’s one of the funniest guys I know. He’s hilarious.”

But on the court, it will be all business for the duo and their Aggie brothers.

There is a Big West Conference pennant to hang, and the younger Les and Hawkins believe in this 2013-14 UCD team.

“Is another plus-nine season possible?” senior guard Les repeated a question. “Absolutely. It’s a pro-style offense that really lets us have a lot of freedom offensively. And we have a lot of guys who can really make shots and it really is tailor-made for this team.”

Hawkins knows he’s a marked man, and thinks that may not be altogether bad for the Aggies.

“I’m going to draw a lot of attention,” he said. “A lot of teams are going to focus on me, and my penetration is going to leave a lot of my teammates wide open. I know they’re going to make (those shots) because we’ve got some of the best shooters I’ve ever seen. Penetration and kick … for me that’s easy.”

Hawkins loves his team’s chances on winning the Big West and heading on to The Big Dance:

“To this day, I have not seen a team that is an offensively fluent as we are. We have so many options that you can take away our one, two and three, options but our fourth and fifth options are still going to (be available), and that spreads the floor.”

Seven lettermen return, and among the talented newcomers are All-San Diego Section guard Brynton Lemar, Bulgaria national teamer Georgi Funtarov and Texas-San Antonio transfer Iggy Nujic. Funtarov and Nujic are 6-foot-8 and should help veteran post Josh Ritchart in the middle.

Hawkins believes if the Aggies continue improve in rebounding and at the defensive end and show additional toughness inside, all the pieces are in place for the championship run.

Aggie fans will know a little more after this week.

Notes: Corey Hawkins points to his mom as being “my No. 1 supporter. She’s my backbone. She’s the reason I’ve worked so hard. She sacrificed so much … this wouldn’t be possible without her.” Jennifer Hawkins markets for a nutritional firm. … Oh, and dad (the Portland Trailblazers’ director of player development) has had more than a little bit to do with his son’s emergence. The elder Hawkins’ influence has been “huge,” according to Corey. “He goes above and beyond to make sure I’m getting the best coaching. Anything.” The junior Hawkins says Hersey, despite being such a prolific scorer and NBA All-Star, “never pressured me to play basketball. But basketball has always been my passion.” And Aggie fans are thankful for that. … From the Speaking of Bombs Away Dept.: UCD hit 40 percent of its 634 3-point shots last year. Senior guard Ryan Sypkens — who coach Les calls “the best shooter in the nation” — was among the NCAA leaders in treys made (106) and percentage (46). But season’s end, Franklin High product Sypkens could be sending some hardware home to his mother. … A preseason media poll has UCD slated for a fifth-place Big West finish.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

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