The journey from Goodyear, Ariz., to UC Davis has been a long one, but Corey Hawkins has finally arrived.
As a record-breaking scorer at Estrella Foothills High School, located in a Phoenix suburb, Hawkins was the toast of Arizona prep basketball three years ago.
The son of former NBA star Hersey Hawkins, Corey led Estrella Foothills to three state titles and became Arizona's career scoring leader with 3,164 points, as well as the single-season record holder at 1,152.
Colleges across the country recruited the 6-foot-3, 195-pound guard, but it was no surprise when Hawkins chose Arizona State.
But in 24 games played as a freshman in Tempe, Hawkins averaged 8.0 minutes, 2.0 points, 0.9 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game.
"I thought Arizona State was a good fit, but I was wrong," Hawkins said. "Texas and Memphis had recruited me hard out of high school and I got several letters from Kentucky. A lot of guys get caught up in the size of the program. But I was looking for a good fit, somewhere I could develop as a player and as a person."
Hersey Hawkins called his longtime friend Jim Les, who was entering his first year as basketball coach at UC Davis.
In the mid-1980s, the two were teammates at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and both played in the NBA. Les had known Corey since he was 5 years old, when Hersey's son used to pal around with Les' son, Tyler, at basketball camps Hawkins and Les used to host.
That longtime connection and familiarity led to Corey Hawkins transferring to UC Davis, where he was forced to sit out last season under NCAA rules.
Now a sophomore, Hawkins has made up for lost time. He leads the Aggies in scoring with 20.5 points in 34 minutes per game. His averages of 3.4 assists and 5.7 rebounds are team second-bests.
With many players returning from last season's 5-26 (3-13 Big West Conference) team, Hawkins and the Aggies are 12-14 and 7-7.
"Corey is helping to make basketball relevant again at UC Davis," Les said.
Hawkins' success is no surprise to Les. During his summer basketball camps, Les used to watch 5-year-old Corey shoot and make baskets on 10-foot-high rims.
"I knew he could score back then," said Les. "He definitely inherited that from his father. In fact, not along ago I texted Hersey and wrote, 'I knew he could score like you but he's now a much better defender than you.' "
That's something Hersey doesn't dispute. Hersey Hawkins is now the player development director for the Portland Trail Blazers. He averaged 14.7 points a game during his 11-year pro career. Much like his son now, the 1990 NBA All-Star was known for his ability to score from anywhere on the court.
But defensive skills?
"Corey is a much better defender than I ever was," Hersey said. "He's also a better ball handler and passer. I think it's great he's found a home at UC Davis, and Jim is a great coach."
Corey Hawkins spent a lot of time in the weight room while he was ineligible last season and put on enough muscle that he feels confident driving on bigger centers and forwards. The extra strength also helps him become an effective rebounder.
But Hawkins is most dangerous with the ball and his strike-from-anywhere ability.
In his first 16 games, Hawkins averaged 17.9 points. But in the eight games he's played since scoring a season-high 40 points in a 93-82 win at Hawaii on Jan. 19, Hawkins is averaging 25.6 points.
"I've been shooting a lot better lately, but really it's just been an urgency to win because we went through a dry spell there where we lost too many in a row," Hawkins said. "I took it upon myself to become more of a scorer, and my shot selection has been a lot better."
Plus, Hawkins says he's "game-ready now" after hitting a bit of a wall at midseason. "I essentially didn't play much for the past two years, so I'm just getting back (in shape)." he said.
Since starting the season 5-10, UC Davis is 7-4 overall and 6-4 in conference. Starting Thursday at UC Riverside, the Aggies will play two on the road before playing their final two regular-season games at home. The conference tournament begins March 14 in Anaheim.
On March 7, ESPN2 will televise the Aggies' home game against conference leader Long Beach State. It's considered the network's "Wild Card" game.
It'll be an opportunity for UC Davis to get prime-time recognition and showcase Hawkins, the nation's 12th-leading scorer going into Tuesday night's games.
"We're a better team than (our record)," Hawkins said. "We'll show that."