If you hadn’t watched a Wilson girls’ basketball game this year, it would be easy to be fooled by Ashley Hawkins.
At a recent practice, the junior guard had the biggest smile, the loudest laugh, and was the happiest player on the court. If you hadn’t seen a game, it would be hard to imagine Hawkins as a killer, averaging 20 points per game to lead the 24-8 Bruins into this Saturday’s CIF-SS Division 3A championship against Eisenhower at 2 p.m. at Godinez High.
Hawkins, leading Wilson in scoring, second on the team with 5.4 rebounds per game, and leading in assists with 5.2 per game, has another gear.
“Her personality can switch in an instant,” said Wilson coach Erin Carey. “She’s competitive about everything, not just basketball. She’s fun and goofy, but she’s also a bulldog.”
It’s a special gift to be ultra competitive but still an engaging personality, and it’s something Hawkins does effortlessly. A hooper since the age of five, when she started playing at the YMCA across from Heartwell Park, she took a ball to the nose at her first-ever practice, sparking her dad to think she might not want a second practice. When he asked her how it had gone, however, she just smiled.
“It was great!” she said.
That attitude and competitiveness have been her hallmark as a player, both at Wilson and with the Cal Swish club program. She grew up idolizing and emulating Kobe Bryant, she and her father’s favorite player. When Ashley developed a mean streak as a youth player, her dad affectionately nicknamed her “Lil Bean.”
“I was a little ballhog,” she said with a laugh. “I actually got to meet Kobe and build a relationship with him through my club coach at Cal Swish. I was joking with him about how we had to play one on one and he told me I didn’t want the smoke.”
Hawkins, who doesn’t turn down a matchup with anyone, had to watch from the sideline last year after a torn ACL took her off the court for the first time in her memory.
“It was frustrating, but people I talked to who’d had a torn ACL told me how important it was to stay positive so I just kept imagining myself on the court,” said Hawkins. “Sometimes in games I’d be like, ‘Coach, put me in, I got this!’ It was hard.”
Carey said Hawkins’ game actually improved from the year on the sideline, as she invested a ton of time in learning how the coaches saw the game and what went into their decision-making process. She already had the ability to knock down threes, drive the ball, or facilitate with her teammates; after the time on the sideline, she added a true “coach on the court” element to her game as well. That didn’t mean there was even a second when she wasn’t itching to get back on the floor, however.
“She was chomping at the bit,” said Carey. “There were times when she’s like, ‘Coach, 30 seconds, just let me step in and hit a three.’ Or ‘I get cleared in four days, I can play today.’”
A true student of the game and its history, Hawkins knows what a big deal it would be to win a CIF-SS title on Saturday. Wilson has only won one girls’ basketball championship, 20 years ago. The boys’ team has only won one as well, meaning she could help her team make a major mark on a school with a big sports history, but not much of a basketball legacy.
“Everyone on campus is really invested in it now,” said Hawkins. “Our teachers are talking about it, everyone’s just super happy for us. It’s cool that they’re realizing basketball and especially girls’ basketball deserves support, too.”
The other thing on Hawkins’ mind is the legacy of her favorite player. After the passing of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other passengers on the helicopter that crashed, Wilson began wearing warmup shirts that honored Bryant’s impact on the game, and Hawkins said that’s driving her as well.
“Losing Kobe was really hard,” she said. “I watched the memorial and it was sad but Diana Taurasi and Sabrina (Ionescu) were talking about keeping his legacy going, especially what he was doing for the girls’ game. We just have to keep going.”