They are the charismatic and talented leaders of the UC Davis and Sacramento State men’s basketball teams that appear headed to their most successful seasons in their NCAA Division I histories.
And the impressive senior seasons of guards Corey Hawkins of UCD and Mikh McKinney of Sac State has sparked an intriguing debate: Are they the best to ever play at their schools?
Hawkins, 6-foot-3, is eighth nationally in three-point field-goal percentage (51.0), leads the Big West Conference in scoring (20.8) and tops the Aggies in rebounding (5.4), assists (3.7) and steals (1.4) while averaging 32.8 minutes. He is fourth on the Aggies’ career scoring list with 1,462 points despite playing only three seasons in Davis after transferring from Arizona State.
Led by Hawkins, UCD already has 14 victories, tying the most in a season since the Aggies moved to Division I in 2004, and shares the Big West Conference lead with UC Irvine at 4-1.
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McKinney, 6-1, is averaging 18.8 points, 5.3 assists and 2.7 steals and shooting 54.3 percent (126 for 232) in 35.9 minutes per game. He is sixth in the nation in steals and fourth on Sac State’s career scoring list with 1,194 points, even though he played his freshman season at Ohlone in Fremont.
He has helped the Hornets lead the Big Sky Conference at 7-1, their best start since they joined the conference in 1996, and their 13-6 record equals their best start since they moved to Division I in 1991.
Hawkins and McKinney are natural scorers who can dominate with their dribbling, defense, distribution and determination. They can slither through the thinnest of seams and score from various angles against taller defenders. Hawkins is the more consistent long-distance shooter, McKinney the quicker penetrator.
Last week, both were named to Lou Henson’s 40-player midseason watch list for mid-major schools.
Sacramento-based NBA and college basketball analyst Bill Herenda said Hawkins and McKinney are special players.
“Corey Hawkins is the best offensive player I’ve seen at Davis,” said Herenda, a former UCD radio analyst. “So it’s easy to overlook all the other things he does with the ball.”
He said McKinney’s contributions for Sac State “have been sensational.”
“His scoring is the sizzle,” Herenda said. “His rebounding, tenacity and leadership for them is the steak.”
John Karsten has watched a lot of Sac State basketball through the years. The former Foothill High School and American River College men’s basketball coach agrees McKinney might be Sac State’s most complete player.
Karsten played basketball for the Hornets from 1959 to 1961 and was Sac State’s freshman coach in 1962, when the varsity lost to Mount St. Mary’s of Maryland in overtime in the Division II national championship game.
“Mikh McKinney is special,” Karsten said. “He’s a born leader. He makes some incredible shots, and when you watch him in practice, he’s going as hard as he does in games.”
UCD public address announcer and former associate athletic director Larry Swanson, who has been watching Aggies basketball since 1972, said Hawkins is “an amazing ballplayer.”
“He really has all the skills, and he is a pleasure to watch because on top of being a great player, he’s an outstanding young man,” Swanson said. “If he isn’t the best, he’s certainly among the best.”
UCD fourth-year coach Jim Les isn’t nearly as familiar with Aggies basketball history, but he’s heard the praise for Hawkins.
“I’m biased, obviously, because I’ve known Corey since he was 4 years old,” said Les, who was a college teammate of Hersey Hawkins, Corey’s father, at Bradley before both played in the NBA. “In the last three years, he has really broadened his game. He came in as a scorer, and while he’s still very efficient at that, he leads our team in assists and steals and rebounds the ball well each night.
“He’s a much-improved defender and has a really good basketball IQ. He can carry us for stretches, which, as a coach, is a great luxury to have.”
Sac State coach Brian Katz marvels at what McKinney has accomplished, especially since he initially thought he would be a role player because of his slender frame.
“He does some things that are pretty staggering,” Katz said. “Last year, he was our second-leading rebounder, and he’s 5-11, if even that (he’s listed at 6-1). So how do you explain that?
“People talk about aggression and toughness, and he has that, but more importantly, he plays with a lot of basketball intellect.”
Katz, a 1980 Sac State graduate, coached at Center High School and San Joaquin Delta College before becoming the Hornets’ coach seven years ago.
He thinks Hawkins and McKinney deserve to be in the “best ever” talk, though he said he is still undecided about the definitive vote.
“When you are talking about the best or the greatest there is, it has to revolve around winning,” Katz said. “So I think the story is still unfolding.
“Hopefully, people are saying at the end of the season, (Sac State) won the conference, they played in the NCAA Tournament. That trumps the whole argument. If not, then it’s all up for discussion, especially in a program like ours that hasn’t done that well.”
But Kevin Nosek, a UCD assistant coach for 13 years, has a different take.
Nosek, once an Aggies ball boy and a member of UCD’s 1998 Division II national championship team, thinks Hawkins and McKinney already have cemented their legacies because they’ve made their schools relevant for the first time in the Division I era.
“You now have two programs that are competing every night no matter who they play,” Nosek said. “Corey and Mikh have taken that competitiveness to another level.
“I don’t think they need to lead either program to the Big Sky or the Big West championships to be considered one of the greats in history. I think the fact that they took teams from out of nowhere is the mark of their greatness.”
McKinney and Hawkins, who have a mutual respect, downplay talk about legacies, especially with critical games still ahead.
“It’s not something I have thought about and don’t concern myself with,” Hawkins said. “What I do on the court is for my teammates and the university. They welcomed me with open arms when I transferred.
“Wherever they place me, whether it’s in the (UCD) hall of fame or not, I just love to play for my teammates and the university.”
McKinney said personal accolades don’t happen without excellent coaching and unselfish, talented teammates.
“Whatever success we have, history we make, isn’t the result of one guy,” McKinney said.
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Dec. 14 vs. Portland: Had 32 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and seven steals while playing all but one minute in a 80-75 loss at The Nest.
Jan. 15 vs. Idaho: Had 32 points – 27 in the second half – and a team-high five assists to help the Hornets rally for a 79-76 win in a Big Sky Conference game at The Nest.
Jan. 24 at Weber State: Scored a career-high 33 points – 27 in the second half – and had seven assists without a turnover in 40 minutes in a 78-71 win, only the second time the Hornets beat the Wildcats in Ogden, Utah.
Dec. 28 at Washington State: Scored 29 points with six rebounds, six assists and five steals in a 90-83 loss. After the game, Cougars coach Ernie Kent said his team wouldn’t face a better player the rest of the season.
Jan. 10 vs. Long Beach State: Scored 28 points, including seven in overtime, and grabbed 10 rebounds to rally the Aggies to a 73-67 victory on national television and in front of an announced crowd of more than 5,000 at the Pavilion.
Jan. 17 at Cal State Fullerton: Had 26 points and 10 rebounds in a 79-68 win that improved the Aggies‘ Big West record to 4-0. It was the Aggies‘ 14th win, tying their best Division I total.
TEN PLAYERS TO REMEMBER
Mikh McKinney and Corey Hawkins are among the top men’s basketball players in Sacramento State and UC Davis history. Here are five other impact players for the Hornets and Aggies through the years.
Chuck Mobley (1955-59): The four-time All-Far Western Conference first-team selection averaged 18.3 points during his career and led the Hornets to their first conference championship in 1959.
Bill Whitaker (1960-62): He averaged 17.6 rebounds and is the Hornets’ career rebounding leader (984) despite playing just two seasons. He helped the Hornets reach the 1962 NCAA Division II national title game.
Lynn Livie (1964-66): The greatest scorer in Sac State history averaged 27.8 points during his two years, and he set the school’s game record with 51 points.
Alex Williams (1986-88): As a senior, he averaged 25.6 points to help the Hornets win a school-record 22 games and make their last NCAA Division II Tournament berth. His 167 three-pointers in a season is still the Division II record.
DaShawn Freeman (2002-06): A four-year starter and the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, he is the school’s all-time leader in games (115), assists (501) and steals (283).
Alan Budde (1966-69): Career rebound leader (952) helped the Aggies win three straight Far Western Conference titles, the last two under coach Bob Hamilton.
Audwin Thomas (1975-79): School career scoring leader (1,821 points) led the Aggies to four consecutive Far Western Conference titles or co-titles. He averaged 20.0 points in the 1978-79 season and 19.2 in 1977-78 and was first-team all-conference three times.
Mike Lien (1977-79): He set the UCD scoring record for a game with 39 points against Stanislaus State in 1979, a mark Hawkins broke with 40 against Hawaii in 2013. He averaged 20.3 points and 15.2 rebounds during the 1978-79 season.
Preston Neumayr (1979-83): The only Aggie to be drafted by an NBA team (eighth round, Kansas City Kings, 1983), he is first in season scoring average (21.3 points) and second in career points (1,578).
Dante Ross (1996-99): The catalyst of the 1997-98 Division II national title team set the school record for assists (166) that season. He also is the career leader in steals (186).