Any night but this one, and Justin Hawkins would be pulling hard for UNLV.
His degrees came from UNLV, but his paychecks are issued by Pacific.
And so Hawkins knows that at least for Saturday, his allegiance has to be to the Tigers, who host UNLV’s basketball team at 7 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Center in Stockton, California.
“I’m happy that it’s another game on the schedule so we can get our team back on track,” said Hawkins, who is in his second season as a video specialist. “At the same time, playing against UNLV, my alma mater, and seeing how well they’ve been playing throughout this year, it’s going to be bittersweet.”
The Rebels (8-2) will try to continue the momentum of a hot start when they face Pacific (5-6). The game will be streamed online at TheW.tv, and the Rebels are 6-point favorites.
Pacific has played a largely Mountain West schedule, even winning 83-71 at Air Force on Nov. 21. The Tigers lost 89-74 at home to UNR on Nov. 18 and last Saturday fell 86-72 at Wyoming.
They already have won one more game than all of last season.
“The pieces are definitely starting to come together,” Hawkins said. “Coach (Damon) Stoudamire has this team on the right track. We all see his vision of where he wants to get to within our program.”
As Hawkins noted, the Tigers are catching a UNLV on a roll. The Rebels average 91.5 points, which is fifth nationally, and they are third with 45.2 rebounds per game.
“They’re really athletic,” Hawkins said. “They get the ball up and down the court really fast. They play pretty good defense. It looks like the guys really like to play and they’re having fun out there.”
He has a connection with UNLV coach Marvin Menzies, who recruited Hawkins when Menzies was an assistant at Louisville. Though Hawkins signed with the Rebels in November 2008, Menzies left a lasting impression.
“He told me wherever I was, I was going to have a good career,” Hawkins said. “He said I play basketball the right way, I had a good head on my shoulders, there were no issues outside off the court that he heard of.”
Menzies knew what he was talking about. Hawkins would become a top-notch defender, averaging almost 20 minutes over his four seasons as well as 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds.
UNLV made the NCAA Tournament each season he was on the roster.
Hawkins, who has bachelor’s and masters’ degrees, knew he wanted to go into coaching, and got his chance in 2014 as an assistant at Liberty High School.
He went to the Pac-12 Conference tournament two years later at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and saw some college coaches he knew and talked about what Hawkins wanted to do for his career. Two coaches reached out to him a week or two later to say Stoudamire, a former 13-year NBA veteran, would be calling.
And he did.
“Coach Stoudamire called and said, ‘I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about you from a lot of people I trust in the industry,’” Hawkins said. “I had a phone interview. He offered me the job. I just took it from there.
“I always knew I would end up being a coach sooner or later.”
Even against his beloved alma mater.