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Atlantic senior Ryan Hawkins always keeping his head in the game

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Always keeping his head in the game

ATLANTIC, Iowa — What drives Ryan Hawkins?

Many players across Iowa might like to know. The Atlantic senior has had one of the finest individual seasons in the state.

He leads Class 3-A in rebounding (14.9 per game) and steals (4.5) and is seventh in scoring (21.3) for the Trojans (10-2), who are in search of their first state berth in 14 years.

“His confidence has just grown,” said Atlantic coach Alan Jenkins, who played on the last Trojan team to qualify for state. “He believes he’s the best player around now, whereas this time last year, he would have thought he was the third-best player on our team, as crazy as it sounds. From a confidence standpoint, that’s where he was.

“He has such belief in himself now, and he’s earned it.”

Jenkins isn’t the only coach in the area with rave reviews of the 6-foot-7, 205-pounder.

Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln coach Jason Isaacson serves as director of the Southwest Iowa Select AAU team on which Hawkins played the past two seasons.

Isaacson helped oversee the team in addition to providing general coaching. He said Hawkins’ approach to the game is second to none.

“I’m probably the biggest Ryan Hawkins fan in the area,” Isaacson said. “He’s just relentless. He plays how you’re supposed to play. He’s about as good as it gets for that. He gets a rebound at one end, and he’s running the floor hard to the other end. He just does everything, and he goes hard all the time. I love watching him play.”

One of Hawkins’ main sources of motivation is that his biggest fan can’t see him play.

Hawkins’ father, Greg, died from colon cancer at the age of 53 in November of 2013, Atlantic’s first day of basketball practice during Ryan’s sophomore year.

For Hawkins to step away from basketball to spend time with family and cope with the loss would have been understandable.

Instead, he went to practice that day. Basketball wasn’t just a sport; it was therapeutic.

“It was extremely helpful,” Hawkins said. “He died right at the start of the basketball season, so basketball was kind of my outlet.

“I needed to get my mind off of it, so I just said, ‘Hey, I’m going to just go to practice.’ It was always nice to have that outlet.”

And it was just as important to have a strong support system in place with his coaches and teammates.

“They were extremely helpful,” Hawkins said. “I think I got a phone call or text or something from every single one of them that day, and it wasn’t just that day. It was two weeks later or a month later. Whenever I needed it.”

Jenkins said it’s clear that both Hawkins’ parents had a positive influence on their son.

“I know Ryan is the person he is today not only because of Greg but because of his mom, Rhonda,” Jenkins said. “He’s a class act, top to bottom.”

Ryan Hawkins said his dad taught him a critical lesson.

“Never to be satisfied with what you have,” he said. “That was ongoing because the entire time he was battling, he never had a negative attitude about the whole thing. He was always looking at the positive and how the impact would affect people.”

That lesson has resonated with the younger Hawkins. He has been the Trojans’ leading scorer and rebounder since that sophomore season, and he has improved every year. He averaged 14.5 points and 7.9 rebounds as a sophomore and 17.6 and 10 as a junior.

Hawkins accepted a basketball scholarship to Wayne State, verbally committing in October before signing in November, despite numerous other schools having inquired about Hawkins since he committed.

Hawkins has no intention of changing his decision. He became a big fan of the school, especially from the fact that it’s a 21⁄2-hour drive from his home.

“I like the campus a lot,” Hawkins said. “I just felt like it would be a good fit, and it’s pretty close to home.”

Focusing on only basketball next year will be an adjustment for Hawkins, who also participates in cross country, track, soccer and baseball.

As for now, Hawkins has plenty on his mind this basketball season. The Trojans are in the middle of a tight race in the Hawkeye Ten Conference. At 5-2, they sit behind Glenwood (6-1), Carroll Kuemper (6-1) and first-place Harlan (7-1).

Even if the Trojans fall short in the conference race, they’re still capable of making a postseason run for a state berth.

That would be a perfect cap to a stellar prep basketball career for Hawkins: playing at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines with the teammates he loves.

What drives Ryan Hawkins isn’t so much big numbers or championships; it’s relishing every step of the journey and maintaining the positivity modeled by his father.

“He’s learned to enjoy the little things in life a whole lot more,” Jenkins said. “Whether it be a team meal or a simple breakdown after practice, the kid always has a smile on his face.”

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