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BC basketball expecting a big impact from Deontae Hawkins

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Deontae Hawkins (above) has demonstrated in practice his ability to finish at the rim for the Boston College men’s basketball team.

By Globe Staff 

As much as Deontae Hawkins fell in love with Boston College when he made his official visit earlier in the year, as high as he put the school on his list when he was weighing his transfer decision after leaving Illinois State, as much as the Eagles’ core of young talent welcomed all of his battle-tested experience, and as much as Hawkins was ready to make an immediate impact, something about tone of the first practice at Power Gym didn’t sit well with him.

It wasn’t loud enough.

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As a matter of fact, it wasn’t loud at all.

Hawkins took it upon himself to turn up the volume.

“It’s quiet!” he yelled.

A noisy gym wasn’t just a creature comfort for Hawkins. In his mind, a team that’s dialed up is also a team that’s dialed in.

“A quiet gym is a scared gym,” Hawkins said. “So I just try to feed off of that and see what everybody’s response is, and they responded well.

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“It’s been contagious. Everybody’s talking, everybody’s high energy.”

When coach Jim Christian was turning over stones in the offseason looking for impact players in the pool of fifth-year transfers, what drew him to Hawkins was more than just a 6-foot-8-inch, 220-pound frame that could guard four positions, score 14 points and grab 6 rebounds a night.

Hawkins was a game-proven talent who’d earned his stripes — and more importantly picked up the habits that go into building a winning program — in the Missouri Valley Conference. And he could pass on what he’d learned to a young BC team trying to pull itself up from the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“He gets it, man,” Christian said. “He gets every aspect of it, from communication on the court, communication off the court, what it takes to win, and obviously from a straight basketball standpoint, the guy’s been in a lot of games, which is a totally different dimension than what we’ve had at any particular time from the 4 [power forward].

“So it’s been great to have him. He’s been much more than I’ve expected in a lot of ways.”

Second thoughts

But getting Hawkins to The Heights took some persistence.

Hawkins, 24, made the biggest leap of his career last season, leading the Redbirds in scoring, rebounding, double-doubles, and double-digit scoring games on a team that won 28 games and came within one win of reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. He was named to the MVC’s Most Improved team and All-MVC second team.

Yet he felt unsettled in the program and decided to explore his options after the season.

“It was difficult, but I knew it was time to move on and find a different family to build with,” Hawkins said. “All the guys that came in with me had left and transferred and went on with their professional seasons, professional careers.”

Hawkins also played the season with the cloud of a DUI charge lingering over him. He was suspended indefinitely prior to the season but wound up playing all 35 games. He pleaded guilty, and received a fine, alcohol treatment, and public service.

The turbulence forced him to do some self-evaluating.

“I just stayed prayed up,” Hawkins said. “That was my biggest thing. I stayed prayed up, just knowing some good was going to come out of it.

“Everybody goes through trials and tribulations, just trying to learn from my mistakes, mature and work from them.”

Once the season ended, he started searching. When he made his visit to BC, he made his mind up quickly, committing in June.

But when he got back to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, he reconsidered things.

“People were in my ear like, ‘Man, you made a decision real early,’ ” Hawkins said. “ ‘You didn’t give it a chance to talk to any other schools.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ So I just wanted to have the option of going.”

He backed off BC in July and made visits to Pacific, New Mexico, Gonzaga, and LSU. Through it all, he stayed in close touch with Eagles assistant coach Scott Spinelli. After weighing all of his options, BC was still at the top of his list.

“It felt like it was home as soon as I was on campus,” Hawkins said.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

BC coach Jim Christian shares a reassuring word with Deontae Hawkins.

Christian understood Hawkins’s process.

“I told him, ‘Bygones be bygones, man. You’re here. Let’s do everything we can to help you reach your dreams and help us get to where we want to be,’ and he’s been great,” Christian said.

“I understand. He had to get this right. He’s got 30-something games to play and he wants to be part of a good team and he wants to be a key part of that good team. So I think in the end, what came through is he saw that all those things could happen here.”

Christian could also sense, from Hawkins’s intensity on the court and his commitment off it, how important this year is to him.

“He needs to express to his teammates how important this year is to him,” Christian said. “That he’s here to win, not just help his own career.

“I think that’s the challenge to all fifth-year players: Are you here to win? Do your teammates think you’re here to win or are you trying to go get a better situation for yourself basketball-wise? I think he’s done a great job of that.”

Mutual benefits

What jumped out to Hawkins on the court was the same thing that jumped out in the ACC a year ago: the Eagles’ dynamic backcourt, with junior Jerome Robinson and sophomore Ky Bowman.

“They’re NBA prospects,” Hawkins said. “I watched a lot of basketball, was on a team with the Player of the Year in our conference, Paris Lee. He’s a good player. I ain’t taking nothing from him, but those two guys? NBA potential all the way, seriously.”

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Two reasons Deontae Hawkins chose to come to BC as a graduate transfer: guards Jerome Robinson (1) and Ky Bowman (0). “If we don’t have Ky and Jerome, he’s not here,’’ BC coach Jim Christian said of Hawkins.

Bowman was a fireball that Christian unleashed as a freshman. He averaged 14.3 points, 2.9 assists, and 4.8 rebounds, finishing fourth in voting for ACC Freshman of the Year. Robinson has been the heart of the young BC core since he arrived as a freshman in 2015, averaged 18.7 points. 3.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists last season.

“If we don’t have Ky and Jerome, he’s not here,” Christian said of Hawkins. “That’s what happens. When you return proven guys, other good players want to play with them.”

But the dynamic works hand in hand. For as talented as Bowman and Robinson are, they haven’t figured out how to win in one of the toughest conferences in the country. Hawkins has never been on a team that won fewer than 18 games.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Deontae Hawkins is prepared to put in some sweat equity into this year’s BC men’s basketball team.

“He’s great for them,” Christian said. “[He can say], ‘Hey, I did this, don’t do this’ or ‘this is what I did that made me successful.’ That carries a lot of weight when you’ve had success, you have won.”

From the first practice, Hawkins has earned the trust of his teammates.

“He can shoot it, he’s amazing on defense, very communicative,” Robinson said. “He’s the best fifth-year that we’ve had thus far. He’s jelled in, jumped in 100 percent since he’s gotten here. It’s definitely fun watching him play and seeing it all come together for him.”

Hawkins came to BC with a clean slate and a chance to do something with it.

“It’s a fresh start,” Hawkins said. “But I feel like I’m getting to know all the guys individually, taking the time and trying to build some type of chemistry.

“It’s so little time till we can go out and compete on the court together, and just knowing it’s going to take everybody getting to know each other, getting a feel for each other out there on the court to be able to win some games.”

BC at a glance

Coach: Jim Christian (fourth season, 29-67).

2016-17 record: 9-23 (2-16 ACC).

Probable starters: G Jerome Robinson (18.7 ppg), G Ky Bowman (17.4 ppg), G Jordan Chatman (8.6 ppg), F Deontae Hawkins (14.0 ppg), F Steffon Mitchell (NA).

Key reserves: F Nik Popovic (6.1 ppg), G Avery Wilson (NA).

Outlook: The Eagles haven’t finished above .500 since 2011, but with the returning backcourt duo of Robinson and Bowman, the expectations for improvement are high. Graduate transfer Hawkins led a 28-win Illinois State team in scoring last season. Freshmen Mitchell and Wilson will need to play key roles if the Eagles are to be competitive in a deep conference.


Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow