Brad Underwood landing Coleman Hawkins helped him secure a top 20 class in the fourth year at the helm of the Illinois basketball program.
While Hawkins is not a top 50 consensus player like Adam Miller or Andre Curbelo, his commitment shows leaps and bounds about the Illini program nationally. A California native with no native ties to the state of Illinois or the Illini coaching staff, Hawkins comes to Champaign with a lot of high-level basketball under his belt.
Hawkins is a 6-foot-10, 200-pound forward from Antelope, California. The big man played at Prolific Prep alongside two of the best guards in the nation in the class of 2020 in Jalen Green (G-League) and Nimari Burnett (Texas Tech). For a consensus three-star player, Hawkins has massive notoriety because of his previous experience at Prolific Prep playing a national schedule year in and year out.
Hawkins will enter his freshman campaign in Champaign with a more narrow focus on development rather than immediate production. As I’ve mentioned before, Hawkins’ trajectory as a 1.0 three-pointer and 1.0 block per game guy is plausible, but we do not know when it will all come together. He has elite touch extending beyond the arc for a big, strong instincts blocking shots, runs the floor for easy buckets in transition along with an above-average handle and solid passing instincts.
To preface his entire breakdown as an impact player this year, I did rank him as one of the top players on this Illini roster to break the NBA barrier in the 2023 draft. He’s a long-term player and it will take some patience from the Illini staff, Illini Nation and Hawkins himself until we see a high-impact forward.
So, what can we expect in year one?
While I do want to limit the expectations because of his narrow frame and shaky motor at times, the Illini simply do not have a player like this on the roster.
Hawkins can be a more athletic and better defensive version of Giorgi Bezhanishvili with less of a post game. Giorgi depends more on skill and footwork whereas Hawkins relies on length, speed and even power at times when finishing.
I do see a scenario where Coach Underwood finds a use for Giorgi, Hawkins and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk at the No. 4 spot and the No. 5 when Kofi needs a blow or is in foul trouble. Having the variety of different skillsets at these spots will be a game of trial and error in terms of rotation breakdown, but Hawkins’ ability to stretch the floor at a higher level than the other two could allow for less double teams on Kofi in the post.
The question will come down to whether Hawkins can compete and keep up on the defensive end. I would put reasonably more stock in Hawkins as a deep threat and offensive producer than Da’Monte Williams, Verdonk and even potentially Giorgi if he can not find his consistency.
While I do think the staff will rely on the veterans when it comes down to it, I do think there will be games where Hawkins is exactly what Kofi needs to space the post and dominate the paint.
There is so much discussion about the wing influx and exodus as well as the backcourt rotation entering this season, but I think the No. 4 spot will potentially be the most interesting battle and decision-making process for the coaching staff.
Adam Fletcher and the entire development crew will prove their stock with Hawkins in the long-run, so while I do temper my expectations on the freshman in year one, I do think that in the post-Kofi era, he could be a massive piece of the Illini program.
Illinois’ class of 2020 is projected as the best haul of players for the program since the 2014 group that came in, and this isn’t even accounting for two transfers who will help on the wing. The influx of talent for the Illini should have fans excited, and I expect Coleman Hawkins to provide long-term upside as well as a unique utility at the No. 4 and No. 5 spot in his first collegiate season.
4.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.5 assists per game