‘Warrior’ guard commits to UNLV

No recruiting analysts are putting five stars next to Justin Hawkins’ name on their national prep rankings. But give him some time, Hawkins said, and that might start changing.

Hawkins, a 6-foot-3-inch junior guard at Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft High School, recently gave a verbal commitment to UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger.

“I know I’m going to have a breakout year,” said Hawkins, adding that the Rebels’ coaches “saw the potential in me.”

Hawkins said he was hearing interest from several schools, including Kentucky, California, Oregon, Iowa State and San Diego State. His first offer came from UNLV, and he decided there was no need to consider other options.

“It would have been exciting,” he said of the recruiting process. “But I felt like UNLV is the perfect place for me and it’s the right time. Coach Kruger and his staff were great toward me and my family. So why hold out any longer?”

Hawkins becomes the Rebels’ first commitment for the 2009 class. Kruger expects to have three more scholarships available.

Taft coach Derrick Taylor said Hawkins is maturing rapidly as a player and was sure to be heavily recruited.

“People tend to want to categorize a player as a point guard or a shooting guard. Justin’s just a really good basketball player who affects a game in multiple ways,” Taylor said. “He fills up a stat sheet.

“He has a warrior mentality. He will compete and not take a step back, and he’s not intimidated by anybody.”

Taylor said Hawkins is a good shooter, a “nuisance” on defense and an ideal fit for UNLV’s three-guard system.

“You don’t have to worry about any off-court troubles with him,” Taylor said. “He has extremely high character. He’s a model citizen.”

Hawkins averaged 14.7 points per game as a sophomore as Taft posted a 20-4 record. But because two players were ruled ineligible, the team was forced to forfeit 16 games and officially finished 4-20.

One of Hawkins’ teammates is 6-foot point guard Larry Drew, a senior who has committed to North Carolina.

Hawkins scored 20 points or more in five consecutive games at the end of last season.

He said he will be capable of playing any guard spot for the Rebels.

“I have to be more of a scorer and be more aggressive on the offensive end,” he said. “I’m a good ballhandler, but I’m not flashy or anything. I’m just a player, and I can do everything.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or (702) 387-2907.

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