Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

Last winter, numerous NBA scouts would watch Jordan Hawkins’ silky-smooth jump shot, elite athleticism and boundless potential unfold in UConn men’s basketball practices.

Then, they’d give Mike Jones a call.

“A lot of them, literally upon leaving practice, would reach out to me for intel on him,” Jones recalled.

Jones is currently in his second season as associate head coach at Virginia Tech, but that’s not why the scouts were calling him on their way out of the Werth Family Champions Center. Jones coached Hawkins for two seasons at national prep powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. The scouts started inquiring about Hawkins during his senior season, and it continued last season, even as Jones was settling in during his first year as Mike Young’s assistant at Virginia Tech.

“And this year,” Jones noted, “it’s probably picked up a little bit.”

Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 guard, is seen as a potential first-round NBA Draft pick next summer. NBADraft.net has him being selected as the last first-round pick in its 2023 mock draf t. Other mocks, however, don’t have Hawkins being taken in either of the two rounds.

“I do believe the NBA is in his future, God-willing he stays healthy, and if he keeps working, which I know will happen,” Jones said. “I would rather not put a timetable on that, but I do believe that he will play in the NBA in the future, whether it’s next year, two years, whatever.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley is even more confident in Hawkins’ potential. Normally loathe to talk about his players’ NBA futures, at least once the season starts, he has said numerous times that he believes the Huskies could lose two or three players to “the league” after this season — with Hawkins topping that list.

“I think he’s going to be a first-round draft pick at the end of the year,” Hurley said, succinctly.

OK, let’s slow our roll here for a minute. That’s a lot of heady talk for a kid who averaged just 5.8 points and shot a mere 33 percent from 3-point range during a mercurial freshman season.

Sure, there were moments when talk of the next Ray Allen or James Bouknight felt legit — 16 points in a win over Auburn, 15 points in 13 minutes in a win over Georgetown. But there were plenty of lows as well — Hawkins followed that Georgetown performance with consecutive goose eggs against DePaul and Creighton, shooting a combined 0-for-6.

He also battled injuries, both at the start of last season and towards the end, ultimately sidelined for the Huskies’ two Big East tournament games and their NCAA tourney loss to New Mexico State while in concussion protocol.

“Him not playing really hurt us,” Hurley noted. “And we knew it.”

With all that in mind, Hurley and his staff are counting on a huge season from Hawkins. It’s clear they envision him challenging Adama Sanogo as the team’s leading scorer, and believe Hawkins will hit more than just one out of every three 3-pointers he hoists up.

So what can we expect from Jordan Hawkins as a sophomore? Maybe 18 points per game and 40-percent 3-point shooting? How about 16 ppg and 38-percent from 3? Maybe 12-14 ppg is more realistic?

“I have in my mind what I think he can do,” Hurley said. “I don’t think I could say it publicly. But I feel like he could be a very productive offensive player on the perimeter. The feedback that we get from people that are seeing other programs, whether they’re NBA people or different people that come through here, they’re really, really impressed with him as a wing prospect that can shoot and score. My eyes tell me that he can be a primary perimeter scorer for us, and potentially be a leading perimeter scorer for us this year. I think we saw signs of that last year at different times, early on and late in the year.”

It’s already started this year. According to Hurley, Hawkins and fellow sophomore Samson Johnson were the two most impressive players in a closed-door scrimmage against Harvard on Oct. 22.

“You walked out of it, from the week itself and going into (Monday’s) practice, just feeling great about those two guys in particular,” the coach said.

For his part, Hawkins brushes off questions about his NBA future or whether this could be his final season in Storrs, stating he’s only concerned about helping UConn win.

One area where Hawkins must improve is his tendency to get down on himself and show poor body language when things aren’t going well for him on the floor.

“I improved on it as the year went on, just not showing my emotions so much,” Hawkins noted. “I feel like it was a young freshman thing with me. I matured more, learned from the guys that left (R.J. Cole, Tyrese Martin, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley) on how to control my emotions, stay in the game, stay focused, don’t let the last play mess you up.”

“He beats himself up, he’s a perfectionist,,” Hurley agreed. “That’s because he comes from great parents that have always held him accountable, and not blamed his coaches when he hasn’t played well. That’s always a great benefit when you’re recruiting players whose parents hold their son accountable, tell him ‘No,’ and that it was him sometimes, not just blaming others.,”

Jones noted another reason why Hawkins’ freshman numbers may not have jumped off the page.

“The biggest thing with Jordan is that he’s a team guy. As talented as he is, especially as a freshman, he’s never going to come in and demand to shoot 20 times and say ‘I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.’ He’s going to do whatever the coach tells him to do. Guys like R.J. Cole last year, he’s going to defer to somewhat. But as he gets better, which I see that happening this year, he’ll take on more of a role of ‘I have to do this, in order for us to win. I have to be able to produce at a higher level.'”

“I think last year was him fitting in and playing his role,” Jones added. “He still hasn’t played his best basketball. But I guess we all assume his role will be bigger this year.”

That would be a correct assumption.

“He’s ready to do it,,” said Hurley. “We’re all confident. We saw in different points of the year, obviously at Atlantis, that performance against Auburn was very impressive. And then the second half of the year, he was really a solid player.

“He’s going to have a huge year.,”