Hawkins an IBCA coach of the year

Photo by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Heritage Hills' Nate Hawkins was named a Bob King Coach of the Year Tuesday by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

LINCOLN CITY — Nate Hawkins first started coaching in 2001 as the sideline general for the Forest Park freshman basketball team. Fast forward nearly 20 years and Hawkins is humbled to be one of the six coaches selected for 2020’s Bob King Coach of the Year award on Tuesday.

The award is given by the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, and recipients are selected by peer-voting from other coaches in their respective districts. Hawkins coached the Heritage Hills Patriots to a 22-3 record and sectional championship before the boys basketball postseason was cancelled Thursday in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just extremely honored,” said Hawkins, who also won the award in 2011 while he was coaching at Forest Park. “I just feel so blessed to have coached so many great kids. It’s a tremendous honor because it’s voted on by all of the coaches in your district. I still attribute any kind of coaching award as a team award. Without each other, we couldn’t do any of these things.”

Hawkins has a 79-18 record in his four seasons at Heritage Hills, which includes three Pocket Athletic Conference titles and this past season’s sectional crown. Overall, Hawkins is 143-44 with five PAC championships, four sectionals and two regionals in eight seasons. He won his first Coach of the Year award in 2011 during his second season as Forest Park’s head coach. The Rangers finished 25-1 and made it to semistate that year. Hawkins remembers feeling “shocked” and “overwhelmed” after he won his first COTY award, and he experienced those same feelings once again when he got the call from IBCA Executive Director Steve Witty in early March.

“You realized all of your peers recognized you as the coach of the year,” said Hawkins, who only told his wife about the award before it was announced on Tuesday. “When I got the call, that whole feeling that I had back in 2011 kind of just hit me again. I wasn’t ready for that. After it set in, it really got me thinking (about) how blessed I am to be awarded this award.”

Hawkins and the Patriots have won 20 or more games in each of the last three seasons, and this season is the culmination of what Hawkins set out to create when he first came to Heritage Hills. Hawkins wanted to build a program with a winning culture and championship aspirations, and he credits the efforts of players like seniors Murray Becher, Simon Scherry, Cole Sigler and junior Blake Sisley with allowing him to foster such an exciting basketball environment in Lincoln City.

“It’s been great,” said Hawkins. “Now our kids are expecting to win and that culture is something that is incredible. A lot of that goes to our upperclassmen. They’ve been a part of this, and now they’re leaving under some different type of circumstances. But ultimately they brought us championships, and that was huge for our program.”

Hawkins felt that this past season was the product of exceptional talent meeting maturity. He thinks that’s what allowed the Patriots to finally translate their regular season success into sectional victory. They didn’t lose a game after December and finished the year with a 17-game win streak. They also bested Evansville Bosse and Evansville Memorial, two teams that were responsible for the Pats’ early sectional exits the last two years, enroute to the team’s first sectional championship since 2003. Hawkins is proud of how the team chose to use past setbacks as building blocks for a year that will go down as one of the best ever at Heritage Hills.

“I think our maturity just grew so much,” he said. “The experiences we went through were vital. We won (conference) championships, but when we got to the tournament, we fell just a little bit short. It propelled them to work even that much harder. We wanted to take the next step in this program, and the next step was winning tournaments in March. We played against some of the best teams all year long. They came in and felt like this was their year. They were determined to get over the top. They fulfilled their dream.”

Beyond winning championships, Hawkins is most grateful for the relationships he’s cultivated with his players and being able to watch them grow as young men on and off the court. His most rewarding experience has been watching former players flourish in whatever profession they choose. It could range from seeing Ben Braunecker play tight end for the Chicago Bears or hearing Grant Welp’s exploits as a teacher and coach at Evansville Reitz.

“As a basketball coach, one of the most rewarding things is seeing your kids go on to college or the workforce and be successful,” he said. “There’s no better reward than seeing your former players that went through the grind with you all those years move on to the next level. That’s what you dream for as a coach.”

Hawkins has come a long way since getting his start with the Rangers’ freshman team, and credits former Forest Park coaches Tom Beach and Denny Doutaz as big influences on his style. It’s been a fun ride with a lot of highs and Tuesday he got to add another one to the list. Hawkins doesn’t know how long he’ll be on the sidelines, but he’s certain about one thing. He’ll keep doing it as long as he’s having fun.

“The only thing you can do is take it year-to-year,” said Hawkins. “You enjoy the moments that you’ve got. It’s been a lot of fun because of the kids, parents and community that we’ve had in both communities. Building relationships (and) trying to mentor these kids and push them in a positive direction makes it so much fun. Every day when you show up for practice or a game, being around these guys is so much fun. I look forward to it every day.”




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