Northwest men’s basketball senior forward Ryan Hawkins entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal Monday morning, first reported by Hoop Scoop Media with Hawkins later confirming to The Missourian.
He’ll depart Maryville, Missouri, as undoubtedly one of the best players in program history.
“I’m going to look back on my life in 10 years from now, and Northwest will always be my home, but I essentially have a free year to go make memories and get a different experience from what I’ve had here,” Hawkins said Monday afternoon. “I feel like that different experience will help me grow as a person individually and as an athlete.”
The free year Hawkins mentioned is the one he was granted by the NCAA. All winter sports athletes were given an extra year of eligibility due to significant modifications to each season that had to be made because of COVID-19.
Hawkins knew before the 2020-21 season started that he’d have that extra year, but he always thought he was going to use it by staying at Northwest.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t think anything of it; I was just focused on basketball and playing, and I didn’t want any outside distractions or anything,” Hawkins said. “I’m a very emotional person. So, I felt like if I didn’t know where my future was going to be then I wouldn’t have been able to play very well.”
Hawkins told The Missourian March 19 that he was planning on staying at Northwest. He figured he’d be returning for his sixth and final year in Maryville.
“I have to finish my degree here, so,” Hawkins said March 19. “I'll have my master’s done this spring, but yeah, I plan on coming back.”
He told a group of reporters he was staying a week later, March 26, the day before the National Championship in Evansville, Indiana.
Northwest men’s basketball coach Ben McCollum thought he’d have Hawkins for another year, too.
“He's a good player, so he's got a great attitude and good personality, and he makes our program better in a lot of ways,” McCollum said March 19. “So, we're definitely fortunate to have him for the time that we've had and time in the future as well.”
After the Bearcats dismantled West Texas A&M in the National Championship with an 80-54 beatdown, Buffs’ coach Tom Brown was pretty adamant about one thing: Northwest, specifically, Ryan Hawkins.
"(He) is not a Division II player,” Brown said about Hawkins, who dropped 31 points and 18 rebounds in the title game.
Thirty-eight days after his initial announcement to return, Hawkins is searching for a new campus to call home next fall.
Should he choose a Division I program, he'll have the chance to prove Brown's claim.
“I don’t think I ever wanted to transfer during the season. I was so focused on the season and everything and making memories with the best friends in the world,” Hawkins said. “After season, when you get to stop and think about everything — at one point, I reflected on everything this team’s been able to accomplish during the last five years I’ve been here and, honestly, there wasn’t much left to accomplish from a team standpoint, just because of the level of success that we’ve sustained.”
It, of course, wasn’t an easy decision, Hawkins said. It wasn’t anything about Maryville or Northwest that pushed him away. It wasn’t anything about any other program that pulled him away. He had time to think after the season, he said, and that’s something he didn’t have from October to the beginning of April.
Hawkins was a redshirt-freshman at Northwest in 2017; he’s been in Maryville for a handful of years now. But, if leaving is the hardest decision he ever has to make, he’s living a pretty good life, he said.
“This place has been my home and has treated me so well that it really did make it hard,” Hawkins said about his decision to transfer. “But, you know — I’m gonna start crying over here — it really is a hard decision. I’m very fortunate and very blessed that this is what I consider a hard decision, because there’s no wrong answer.”
Despite some people believing that Hawkins is transferring in hopes of playing professionally in the future, he doesn’t think that’s the case at all.
“To be completely honest, I think it’s the exact opposite,” Hawkins said. “I think this was more realizing that I wasn’t going to play pro. That’s one of the conversations that McCollum and I had, was that staying at Northwest would be my best chance to play professionally; so, I kind of had to swallow that pill that leaving means it will probably be my last year of basketball.”
The support from his teammates, Hawkins said, was overwhelming. He was fearful of breaking the bonds he’s spent the last handful of years creating. He didn’t want those to shatter with one decision.
However, his meeting with the rest of the team Monday morning was tear-filled, which he wasn’t necessarily expecting. His teammates were receptive, too, which alleviated some of the stress Hawkins took into the conversation.
Hawkins etched his name into the program’s history books in nearly every statistical category. He’s second on the program’s all-time scoring list (2,098), the program’s all-time leading rebounder (948), second on the program’s steals list (225) and only the sixth MIAA player ever to reach the 2,000-point mark.
He’ll leave Maryville as a three-time national champion, the 2021 Elite Eight’s Most Outstanding Player, a two-time MIAA Defensive Player of the Year and known as perhaps the best big man to ever don Bearcat green.
“I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that so many kids dream about,” Hawkins said. “Northwest is a one-of-a-kind place, and it’ll never be emulated all of the way through; not just the basketball program, but this entire athletic department and the school — all of the way up to (Northwest President John Jasinski). That part of me will always be sad, and I’ll miss it, I’m sure, but this will always be my home. This will be my family for life.”