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Originally published June 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 1, 2007 at 9:01 PM

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Steve Kelley

Time has come for Hawes to make the big-league leap

Auditioning for the role of a lifetime, in the swelter of a basement basketball court, under the harsh lights and harsher stares of the...

Seattle Times staff columnist

NBA draft

June 28, 4 p.m., ESPN

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Auditioning for the role of a lifetime, in the swelter of a basement basketball court, under the harsh lights and harsher stares of the Minnesota Timberwolves executives, Spencer Hawes traded postups and jump hooks, elbows and sweat with Joakim Noah.

The Wolves' general manager, Kevin McHale, whose textbook moves Hawes had long ago photo-shopped in his head, watched in dour judgment. So did no-nonsense coach Randy Wittman and anybody else who had a stake in Minnesota's hoops future.

The rest of Hawes' basketball life had begun.

A mere 15 months ago, he was celebrating a high-school state championship with his teammates at Seattle Prep. Now, an already busy life is shifting into warp speed.

"As strenuous and annoying as it can be to travel everywhere, I think the workouts have been a highlight for me," Hawes says, sitting in the den of his Queen Anne home. "You get to play against the best guys and test yourself and challenge yourself."

In addition to Minnesota, Hawes, 19, has worked out for Chicago, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Boston. He says he has traveled back and forth across the country three times in the past two weeks, a sneak preview of the rest of his life.

"That's how it is at that level," he says.

NBA draft

June 28, 4 p.m., ESPN

At this level, McHale can make decisions on his future. Where Spencer Hawes is going to live. And how much money he's going to make.

"For a big guy who plays like I do, working out in front of McHale was the kind of thing that really hit me," Hawes says. "Minnesota was my first workout, and you're there in front of Kevin McHale. I've been trying to emulate what he's done for so many years.

"Now he's sitting there watching you, and you're trying to show if what you've learned has worked or not. That was the biggest eye-opener for me. He told me he liked my skill sets, but he pointed out at the same time the need to get stronger and the need to work on the defensive end. That's something I know, but if it gets recognized by McHale you just put that much more emphasis on it."

On this gray Sunday in June, Hawes still can be a teenager. Kevin Durant, the Sonics' likely first-round pick, is in town and calls to tell him he has scored tickets to the Ne-Yo concert at the Showbox.

The future can wait another day.

"People kind of tell you how fast it goes, but when you're in it, like this year at Washington, it feels like a grind," Hawes says. "But when it's over, it feels like only yesterday that we were going through that celebration at Prep. When I think about the experience, you know, you blink and you miss it."

Although the deadline for underclassmen to announce their availability for the NBA draft is today, Hawes refuses to formally acknowledge that he's leaving.

"You can predict," he says with a smile.

So here's the prediction: After one season at the University of Washington, Hawes is leaving. He will be part of the league's first "One-and Done" class that, under new rules, was required to go to college for a season before entering the league.

And forget all the draft-camp numbers: the high body fat, or the low vertical. Hawes is ready.

He has been impressive in his workouts, and it seems his draft position is improving daily. He could go as high as fifth to Boston, or seventh to Minnesota, or ninth to Chicago.

"I don't think I'm rushing [into the league]," Hawes said. "But for basketball players the culture is different. You try to achieve your dream and try to get to the highest level you can of your equivalent of the work place. And now, because of the age limit, it's changed a little bit. It [NBA] is just the next natural step you take."

From the picture window in his den, Hawes can look across the freeway to the campus he is leaving. He can see the peaks of the Cascade Mountain range and the peaceful still of Lake Washington. It's a cozy room. A great place to live. A nice life.

Today he will be choosing to leave that quiet, metaphorical womb for the racket of the big leagues.

It should be scary. It should be enough to give a teenager chills and nightmares and second thoughts. But the basketball world is much different now.

Hawes isn't going into the league alone. He and Durant are good friends. He is also close to other "One-and-Doners" Thaddeus Young of Georgia Tech and Brandan Wright of North Carolina.

For the past couple of seasons, they've traveled the basketball world together. They've played in summer tournaments from one end of the country to the other. Hawes and Durant, for instance, first met at a Nike Basketball camp before their junior years in high school.

They've played overseas and they've stayed in touch through the magic of text messaging.

"There's this natural kind of connection you develop because you're around each other so much, through AAU tournaments and college games and this [workout] process," Hawes said. "You get that much closer to the guys, see them at all these events."

They've talked and texted about coming into the league together. In gyms from Las Vegas to Augusta, they've compared games and shared dreams.

And today, for the first class of "One and Doners," their journey into the NBA begins for real.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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