Hawkins: 'I didn't play my cards right' | Content

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CHAMPAIGN — Coleman Hawkins’ decision to enter the transfer portal after declaring for the 2024 NBA Draft was all about having the options available to him. All of them.

Stay in draft.

Return to Illinois.

Or play a fifth season of college basketball elsewhere.

It was also based on how he handled a similar situation a year ago. Hawkins declared for the draft after his junior year with the Illini but did not enter the transfer portal. After he exited the draft, three selections turned into two, and then just one. Any influence he might have had in the age of name, image and likeness is gone.

“Honestly, I didn't make a mistake like that last year,” Hawkins told Jeff Goodman on the Field of 68 podcast. “I didn't play my cards right. Everyone knows I'm a loyal guy and that's why. Last year, I didn't want to put my name on the portal, even though my dad told me that business is business.

“This is not a transfer portal to leave to make more money. This is a transfer portal to negotiate but still end up in Illinois. I didn't play those cards well.

Hawkins returned to Illinois for the 2023-24 season after withdrawing from the draft. Even after dealing with a lingering knee injury all year — tendonitis bothered him throughout — he still averaged a career-high 12.1 points per game and, most importantly, his 3-point shooting The shooting percentage reached a career-high 37%.

That's why Hawkins is an NBA Draft prospect. The 6-foot-10 forward said the feedback he's received so far suggests he will be selected with the 58th pick in next month's draft. The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor led the Illinois senior in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies with the 56th pick.

But while Hawkins' focus remains on the draft, he holds more cards this time around. If he doesn't receive the feedback he wants on his draft prospects, two doors are open. Or, in the worst-case scenario, NBA teams will be unable to complete draft evaluations due to injuries.

Only because he entered the transfer portal ahead of this week's deadline.

“Don't get me wrong,” Hawkins said. “I'm grateful for everything, but I would say it's just to prevent mistakes that I didn't make last year, if anything, to help me out. Especially if this is going to be my last year somewhere. I want to be like everyone else in the world and try to maximize and make as much money as possible.

“This has nothing to do with 'I'm tired of Illinois.' I hate the coaching staff. I've been there four years. We just got (assistant coach Orlando Antigua) and I love it. He recruited me. This It’s not about people leaving or anything like that. It’s just about trying to play my cards right and maximize the money I can get next year because I didn’t have the opportunity to do that my junior year.

Hawkins said his feedback on the NBA draft so far has focused on two-way contracts through the 2024-25 season, although guaranteed contracts are not out of the question. Fifteen second-round picks from last year's draft signed multi-year deals that were at least partially guaranteed. The deals start at the league's lowest, expected to be $1.16 million next season. The two-way contract is worth half that, $580,000.

It makes sense that Hawkins would at least expect the latter if he withdrew from the NBA draft and returned to college basketball. Whether it's Illinois or another program.

“I didn't even get a chance to talk to coach (Brad) Underwood a second time about the transfer portal or anything,” Hawkins said. “I'm not going to bother him when he's in Spain. They're building their roster. I'm not going to say I'm going to get this or that. If I'm going back to school, I don't want to take away people who don't want me back. .who is there probably because I won't be back.

“I'm going to talk it all out with them, but I don't want to take away their attention from the guys that are coming in and they're going to be like 'Oh, Coleman's back.'” That might change some things for them. I think it's a little selfish of me, but I would definitely talk to them and keep Illinois as an option because I'm a very loyal guy.

That means if Hawkins chooses to play college basketball for a fifth season but doesn't return to Illinois, he likely won't end up at another Big Ten program – or Missouri.

“I'm a competitive person,” he said. “The other Big Ten teams make me sick. I'm not going to lie. They may hate me, but I don't like them either. If I were to go anywhere else, I would never play in the Big Ten.

“I can't stand Mizzou. I can't stand the other Big Ten schools. I respect them — don't get me wrong — but I'm never going to play in the Big Ten. You guys don't have to worry about me wearing an Indiana jersey or anything like that.

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