Second combine experience more comfortable for Hawkins

May 18—CHICAGO — Coleman Hawkins' first experience in the NBA draft combine last year was a learning experience. The Illinois forward was a sponge, soaking up information about subjects like the draft process and the differences in the types of contracts available.

Hawkins took all that information in and decided to return to Illinois for the 2023-24 season. He'll face a similar decision May 29 — stay in the draft or opt to use his bonus season of college basketball eligibility.

Getting to the point will include a second, much more comfortable run through the NBA draft combine. Hawkins was at ease this week in Chicago, as he went through workouts, testing and interviews in a more informed round of information gathering as he sorts through his options.

"I think this year I just feel a lot more comfortable and very informed," Hawkins said. "Last year I just didn't feel like I was getting the right insight. I felt like I was going in here blinded."

Hawkins' comfort level was on display during a pair of 5-on-5 scrimmages at Wintrust Arena on Tuesday and Wednesday. The sure-thing first-round picks didn't play. Neither did some likely second-round picks.

While Hawkins is looking for some type of draft guarantee — mostly on the contract end — he doesn't have it yet. Playing well in the scrimmages could make it happen, and Hawkins showed off his full skill set Wednesday after a less successful Tuesday.

Hawkins came off the bench in Tuesday's scrimmage and finished with seven points, one rebound and one assist. The follow-up Wednesday was one of the top scrimmage performances from the combine with Hawkins putting up 17 points, five rebounds and three assists while knocking down 3 of 4 three-pointers.

"I think (Tuesday) it was good to just kind of get a feel," Hawkins said. "It's kind of tough when it's five-minute spurts, come in and out, but (Wednesday) I started and I felt great and had good energy from coach. ... I knew what I needed to improve on to look good and impress some scouts, and I went out there and did it.

"Last year I got caught up in worrying about how I was going to play. (Wednesday) I just came out and played regardless of what the outcome was. I wasn't focused on other things. I wasn't focused on who was in the crowd. I just went out and played and played my game, too. I just felt more comfortable out here for sure."

Hawkins played more with the ball in his hands Wednesday, which allowed him to fill the facilitator role he enjoys. That let him get in a rhythm that reflected on a more assertive approach in catch-and-shoot situations.

Hawkins' ability to do both could make him an intriguing pick-up in the draft. Especially as a power forward. And even though he measured 6 feet, 81/4 inches without shoes at the combine after being listed at 6-10 his entire Illinois career.

"I talked to our coaches before (Wednesday's) game, and they saw little flashes of what I could do with the ball in my hands and passing," Hawkins said. "I love to pass. I'm a willing passer. That's my favorite thing to do. People tell me that I need to score more, but I really like passing."

Hawkins did more as a shooter and scorer this past season at Illinois. He averaged a career high 12.1 points and did so, in no small part, because he made a career high 36.9 percent of his three-pointers, connecting on 59 of 160 from beyond the arc.

"He answered so many questions this year," Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. "He was primarily a 5-man who people wanted to see his shooting numbers go up, and they skyrocketed. He had a great year. His turnovers were down. Decision-making was better. Then he proved he can guard literally five spots."

Hawkins also understands the role he would play in the NBA when it comes to when and how he might score. He knows he won't be the No. 1 option. Being more aggressive in catch-and-shoot situations will be important.

"I'm going to have to play with superstars in the NBA," Hawkins said. "When they might draw a double team or something like that, when they kick it to me, I need to be ready to catch and shoot and be a threat. ... I'm a great shooter. When I do turn those shots down, it's not just hurting me, but it's hurting my team. That could be there points right there for whatever team I'm on."