Dec. 1, 2017
A MASTER MOTIVATOR – Crispus Attucks Head Varsity Basketball Coach Chris Hawkins (center, kneeling) led the 2017 team to an historic, nail-biting win last March. And he did it all during his first and only year as a head high school basketball coach. Below, Hawkins stands in front of the 2017 state championship banner, which was unveiled during this season’s first game on Nov. 21. As a young coach, he also has a great rapport with his players.
The 2017 state boys’ basketball championship banner finally took its rightful place inside the gymnasium at Crispus Attucks High School on Nov. 19.
Chris Hawkins led the team to a winning season during his inaugural year as head varsity basketball coach at the school, securing Attucks’ first state title since its glory days in the 1950s.
That win, amazingly accomplished during his first year ever as a head coach, has already solidified Hawkins’ place amongst Attucks coaching greats, including Ray Crowe (1955 and ’56) and Bill Garrett (1959).
But Hawkins knows he can’t rest on those laurels.
With a new crop of seniors he’s molding this season — which began Nov. 21 with a win against Shortridge International Baccalaureate High School — Hawkins has been hard at work plotting his team’s next plays. And maybe the school’s next championship win.
A student of the game himself, Hawkins’ love for basketball didn’t blossom until his sophomore year at Southport High School — under the tutelage of renowned coaches like Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame member, Bill Springer.
Always an inquisitive mind, Hawkins has never been shy about asking questions and looking for advice to be a step ahead of the competition. As the starting point guard for Southport, Hawkins helped lead his team to a sectional championship during his junior season in 2000.
“The seed for coaching was planted when I was playing the point guard position. Every coach that I had, I always just asked them for information,” said Hawkins. “I wanted to know what they were seeing and what they were looking for, and why were we running certain sets. I’ve always just been a sponge.”
Basketball Wasn’t His First Love
Hawkins started participating in sports at age 5 and was a three-sport athlete growing up — playing basketball, baseball and football. Baseball, however, was his first love as a youngster and he played through elementary and middle school.
Things, however, began to change when his basketball skills surpassed his talent in both baseball and football. And after quite a few unfavorable matchups on the football field, including a run-in with future NFL quarterback Rex Grossman, Hawkins decided to turn his focus to hoops during his last three years at Southport.
Following high school, Hawkins went down to Indiana University, Bloomington, to earn his degree in liberal studies. IU was his favorite college team growing up, and although he decided not to try to be a walk-on for the basketball team, his love for the game never waned. Studying his favorite teams while playing in competitive college intermural leagues kept Hawkins closely connected to the game.
His first high school coaching experience came in 2007 as a volunteer assistant and freshman coach at Southport under Jason Delaney, who would go on to win a state championship at Arsenal Tech in 2014. Hawkins also coached elite teams in the Amateur Athletics Union (AAU) during this time, giving him experience coaching players with varying degrees of skill and talent.
Hawkins took his craft seriously from the beginning, often sitting in on state college teams’ practices to pick up new tools he could incorporate into his own coaching methods.
His first experience with IPS came when he took the junior varsity head coach and varsity assistant coaching positions at Shortridge in 2012, under Donnie Bowling. Shortridge, having been converted back into a high school in 2009, gave Hawkins the opportunity to see how a program is built from the early stages. At Shortridge, he figured out how to teach his players to have successful practice habits and carry that into games with confidence. His progress at Shortridge led to an offer at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in 2014, where he assumed the same coaching positions with a high-level basketball program under head coach Todd Howard. At Brebeuf, Hawkins improved his ability to manage the flow of a game, maximizing each possession while properly utilizing timeouts and substitutions.
Bringing Experience to Attucks
Success at the high school and AAU levels, combined with his relationship with players across the city, made him a great candidate for the Crispus Attucks head coaching position when it opened up in 2016.
Attucks Athletic Director Joshua Varno recalls his mindset during the coaching vacancy. “We had an opening for the head coach of a talented basketball team. We wanted to make sure we got a guy who could bring the team together after falling short in the state tournament, but we also wanted someone who would look to develop the students off the court as well.”
Many of the players on the team were already familiar with Coach Hawkins, particularly after Attucks fell to Brebeuf in the sectionals that same year. After boldly guaranteeing that he would take the team to the championship game during his interview, Hawkins was selected for the position.
“I just think from AAU up to Brebeuf prepared me for the position here at Attucks. I’ve coached a lot of different types of kids and players, and over here we have athletes and guys that can shoot,” said Hawkins. “Right now, I’m just learning to be more patient and not overuse the best players.”
No less than a week after securing the job at Attucks that spring, Hawkins began early morning workouts with many of the upcoming seniors on the team, meeting them in the gym at 6 a.m. to assess their skills and instill his core fundamentals of dribble, pass and shoot. The most important of these three for Attucks was shooting. Hawkins knew the knock on most teams from urban districts is that they cannot shoot the ball with range efficiently and he was determined to turn that perceived weakness into a strength for his Attucks team. Not only did these early workouts give him a gauge on players, but it let the players know that Hawkins was serious about seeing them compete for a state championship.
Teyon Scanlan, a 2017 graduate, led the team in scoring during the championship game with 24 points and was one of the players who had played under Hawkins before. “I had known Hawkins for a while. He coached me in middle school in AAU basketball as well. Once I heard that he got the job I was pretty excited. He was like a role model for me. We crack jokes, but you could always tell when he was serious.”
After being brought on fulltime at Attucks, Hawkins stopped coaching AAU and became a special education teacher at the high school and immediately began emphasizing the importance of being a student-athlete.
For an hour after school, his players hit the study tables and put in the work academically before they can step foot on the court. With his prior experience at Shortridge and Brebeuf, Hawkins knows how important academics are to his players, especially to those looking to play at the collegiate level.
“Last year I said, ‘Okay, we’re doing study tables and we’re going to get this team GPA up.’ We ended up with a 3.14 team GPA at the end of the season, and it’s because we had the kids go study whatever they were struggling with before practice,” said Hawkins. “Academics is important for all of the kids, and some of them have the talent to play at the next level, but they won’t have that opportunity if their grades aren’t where they need to be.”
Mentoring Young Men
There are plenty of adjustments to make when transitioning from an assistant varsity coach to a head varsity coach, and one of the most important is selecting a coaching staff of your own.
During his first year at Attucks, Hawkins put together a group of guys with an array of personalities and skillsets, allowing them to build relationships with each player in one way or another. With Hawkins being 33 years old during their championship run and an assistant coach being the oldest at age 34, Attucks has one of the youngest coaching staff’s in Indiana, allowing them to naturally take on a big brother mentorship role with their players.
Eric Klinefelter, who was an assistant coach for the 2016-17 Attucks championship team, used to play recreational ball with Hawkins. “It was great to see a different side of Hawk. He’s very demanding and can be hard on the kids when they need him to be. I think he allows his assistants to have a lot of responsibilities as well, which allows him to get the most out of everybody, staff and players alike.”
Trust on and off the court is key between Hawkins and his players. He is on call for them day and night to help them through a number of situations, making personal sacrifices for the good of his players. Hawkins knows that having a personal relationship with his players is invaluable, and in order to truly succeed at the high school level a coach needs to take a personal interest in their players and develop trust.
Nike Sibande, who was a senior on the championship Attucks team and a current Miami University of Ohio freshman guard, is grateful for the impact Hawkins has had on him.
“Our relationship grew tremendously throughout the season. He’s like a mentor in my life. He gives me a lot of inspiration to keep going and push myself, not only with basketball but outside of the gym as well,” said Sibande.
This trust showed up during critical moments of big games last year. His players listened to every word the staff said, guiding them to 15 straight victories to close out the season. Attucks was the second-highest scoring team in the state at nearly 80 points per game, and set the record for the three-point percentage in the state championship game.
A New Season
Guiding the 2017 group to the first Attucks state championship since 1959 has brought plenty of attention to Hawkins and his program.
“It feels like I see somebody every day who played here or graduated from here. They always show me love and thank me for what our team did for the community,” said Hawkins. “It’s just unbelievable to see the level of alumni support. They’ve embraced me so much that I feel like an Attucks alum myself.”
Despite the state title, Hawkins remains motivated, knowing that it takes years for a coach to truly develop and integrate their system into a school. Hawkins is prepared to rise to the occasion, using the same methods that made Attucks a championship-level team during his first season.
The Attucks schedule for the 2017-18 season is filled with more challenging competition from bigger and better schools than they faced the previous season, and that was done intentionally.
“Defensively, we’re a better team this year because we’re longer and more athletic, but want to develop offensively. We don’t want everything running smoothly at the start,” said Hawkins. “We’ve built out a nice, tough schedule and we want to learn and grow in January and February, and then in March is when we want everything to be rocking and rolling.”
Hawkins knows his team will face some bumps in the road this season, but expects his guys to be more than prepared when the state tournament comes back around as they look to add yet another banner to the walls of the Tiger Den.