Hawkins not starting, just starring

After Dave Rice was hired as UNLV basketball coach in April, the rumor mill began to swirl regarding which players potentially could be headed elsewhere. The name that always seemed to appear was juniorguard Justin Hawkins.

Hawkins silenced those rumors by saying he was committed to remaining a Rebel. And this non-move is paying huge dividends for both him and UNLV.

Known primarily as a defensive specialist hisfirst two seasons at UNLV, Hawkins has transformed himself into the do-everything force that former Rebel coach Lon Kruger and his staff alwaysenvisioned. Adding a deft offensive game while still continuing to wreak havoc on opposing offenses has been the key to Hawkins’ rise from role player to major contributor.

Although he doesn’t hear his name called in the starting lineup, there is no denying what Hawkins has meant to the Rebels during their 9-1 start this season. While fifth on the team in minutes per game (25.4), Hawkins is fourth in scoring average (11.2 points per game), leads the Rebels in steals (2.3 per game), and has the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the roster (21 assists, eight turnovers), a statistic Rice places a high value on.

Hawkins has gone from possible expenditure to one of the Rebels’ top players in a matter of months.

During his first two years with the Rebels, Hawkins reached the double-digit mark in scoring in just nine games. Through 10 games this season, Hawkins has hit that mark six times, including leading the team in scoring three times, which is more than anyone else on the roster.

Bench players in basketball have always been counted on to supply immediate contributions and energy. There’s a reason they give out a Sixth Man of the Year Award in the NBA. For a team to thrive, it’s crucial that someone can come off the bench and blend in seamlessly with the group on the floor.

In Hawkins’ case, he’s not only matching what fellow guards Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall are doing, but he’s outperforming them on many occasions.

There’s an old adage that reads, “Whatever you do, do it to the best of your abilities.” Hawkins is living up to that notion. He may be considered a reserve player by title, but he might be one of the best “bench” players in the nation.