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Bradley star Hawkins takes his place in the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame

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National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame
/
YouTube
Bradley University men's basketball great Hersey Hawkins is inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony Sunday night in Kansas City, Mo.

The most prolific and celebrated player in the history of Bradley University men’s basketball is now a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Hersey Hawkins represented the Braves during Sunday night’s induction ceremony for the eight-member Class of 2021 in Kansas City, Mo. The Chicago native started all 125 games during his four-year Bradley career from 1984-88, establishing 14 program records.

“You don't start off playing basketball as looking for personal accolades and things of that nature,” Hawkins said during a Monday news conference. “But, by the grace of God, going to the right school and having the right coaches and just everything sort of falling in place, you end up having a good college career, and this is the pinnacle of it all.”

During Sunday’s ceremony that was broadcast on YouTube, Hawkins told the audience his induction would not have been possible without support from his Bradley coaches and teammates.

“To have coaches that believe in you and that trust the fact that you can go out there and do it every night, and then to have players who are just as talented as you are but are willing to sacrifice their game for the betterment of the team to get me open, that that meant a lot,” he said. “So I share this with a lot of those guys.”

According to Hawkins, a bit of fate paved his path to Bradley. While he primarily played center as a senior at Westinghouse High School, then-Braves coach Dick Versace attended a practice where Hawkins played guard – and eventually offered a scholarship.

“I didn't want to go far from home anyway, so, three hours away where my parents could still come to the game – just a great decision,” said Hawkins. “Bradley, they have some of the most loyal and just outstanding fans; the fan support was wonderful. Of course, the school rallied around us and we had some pretty good teams during my four years there.”

Hawkins amassed 3,008 points in his Bradley career, one of his program records. In his senior season, he was the consensus National Player of the Year after leading the country in scoring with an average of 36.3 points per game.

He admitted some of his success was motivated by not getting recruited by Big Ten schools or DePaul.

“Coming out of high school, I think everybody thinks that they're a power conference-type player. You sort of have to, I guess, have a little chip on your shoulder, because you have to prove to those guys that you were capable of playing there,” Hawkins said, before acknowledging that playing for Versace at Bradley was the right fit.

“I needed to mature. I needed to go somewhere where a coach could take me under his wing. That was extremely important to me, to go somewhere where I felt that I would be not just an athlete, but also someone that a coach can help mature as a person.”

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National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame
Bradley University basketball star Hersey Hawkins speaks about his induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame during a Zoom news conference Monday. Hawkins, the all-time leading scorer in Braves history, was part of an eight-member Class of 2021 enshrined Sunday night in Kansas City, Mo.

Hawkins said the quality of play really wasn’t significantly lower than the major conferences.

“The basketball was phenomenal at the time. The Missouri Valley Conference, even though it’s considered a mid-major, there were very talented individuals in that conference,” he said. “It was just a challenge every single night to go out there and figure out a way to score when you know the whole other team is designing a defense to stop you.”

After Stan Albeck replaced Versace in 1986, the Braves went 26-5 in Hawkins’ final season, winning the Valley title but falling to Auburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Hawkins said it was a special year for himself and fellow seniors Trevor Trimpe, Donald Powell, Jerry Thomas, and Greg Jones.

“The five of us had played our entire four years together. So it was one of those years where we wanted to go out with a bang, we wanted to give it all we had that year to make a serious push,” said Hawkins.

“It was just one of those years where it all came together. Of course we didn't win it all, but as a group we knew what our ultimate goal was and everyone – for the entire four years, but even more so my senior year – everyone sacrificed and did whatever they had to do in their games in order for us to win.”

When asked during the ceremony which of his Bradley records he treasures the most, Hawkins was quick to respond.

“Scoring, of course. Honestly, I heard about the 14 other records and I don't even know what they are,” he said. “The only one I ever paid attention to was the scoring, so that's the one I'm most proud of.”

One of Hawkins’ other Bradley records is the single-game scoring mark of 63 points, in a 122-107 win over Detroit Mercy on Feb. 22, 1988. Hawkins called it “an unbelievable night” – but believes it could have been even higher.

“You feel like everything you throw up is just going in, and I guess it’s just being in one of those zones, and the team getting me the ball,” he said. “It's one of the games that I sort of regret because I could have scored 70 or 75 if I would have just shot the ball a little more.

“But as at some point when you taking so many shots, I started feeling guilty during the game that I was shooting so much. So I started passing the ball. It was just one of those memorable nights when the coaches know you’re hot and your team knows you’re hot and they just feed you the ball, so you take advantage of it.”

Hawkins said he will always look back fondly at his days in Peoria.

“Probably some of my most memorable time is just hanging out on campus, walking across the Quad, going to class, and stopping and talking to students, having a good time,” he said. “Like every other college student does, you go there to have fun, to mature, to grow up, and I experienced all of those things while playing basketball. So it was a wonderful experience for me.”

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