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Thursday, December 7, 2006 - Page updated at 09:29 AM

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Hawes ready to take game on the big stage

Seattle Times staff reporter

He is the tallest of the Huskies (those healthy enough to play, anyway) and the one of whom the most is expected, termed in the school's media guide as "Washington's highest-rated recruit ever."

Spencer Hawes is also the youngest Husky, having turned 18 last April 28.

And like everyone else growing up, he's grappling with what sounds like conflicting advice.

Often times, he's told to hurry up. Others, to wait.

"Things just happen so much quicker," Hawes said. "You have to react that much more quickly [than in high school]. At the same time, you have to be patient and not rush things. It's all about finding that balance."

And as he's nearing the first big test of his college career Saturday night at Gonzaga, Hawes appears to be toeing the bar with increasing ease.

Sure, he has had a couple of slip-on-the-ice moments (2-for-8 shooting against Idaho, for instance), and some areas where he admits he's still finding his footing (a rebounding average of just 4.9).

But along with the youth, there is also the caveat of minor preseason knee surgery that caused him to miss a month of practice and caused his teammates to miss a month of practicing with him. He said the knee still serves as an annoyance, and he's had to work his way back to optimum playing shape.

"You sit out a month, you lose your rhythm," said his teammate and close friend, Jon Brockman. "You lose the feel for the pace of the game. But I think he's back on track now and getting used to it."

As proof is UW's last game, when Hawes scored a career-high 21 points, 15 in the second half, hitting 9 of 14 shots in a win over Southern Utah.

"I just settled down and went more at my own speed and didn't try to rush through things," said Hawes, who is averaging 12.6 points.

Conversely, he has continued to adjust to the more frantic pace at the Division I level, something that is a particular challenge for bigger players.

"A guy like [teammate] Quincy [Pondexter], his athleticism makes it a lot easier for him to get acclimated to that maybe a little quicker than I do," Hawes said. "But it's coming along. It's something I've always had to deal with, not being the most athletic guy out there. But I think I've gotten a pretty good hold of it now."

He'll find out Saturday when he will almost certainly spend much of the night matched up against Gonzaga's 6-11 sophomore, Josh Heytvelt. Hawes faced Ohio State's Greg Oden, who may be the No. 1 pick in next June's Draft, at the McDonald's All-American game last spring. He matched up against Heytvelt a few years ago at a summer camp.

But he has never faced a player of Heytvelt's caliber in a setting of this magnitude against a coaching staff scheming ways to defend him.

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said he has no concerns over how Hawes will respond to the setting.

"He's a feisty winner," Romar said. "The bigger the stage, the bigger he gets."

As for the game serving as an early litmus test on Hawes' ability, Romar said, "We will know where he is today. But is that going to be Spencer in January or February? I don't know. We'll see."

The Hawes of today is shooting a team-high 58.7 percent from the floor, leads the team in blocks with 19, and has the third-most assists with 14.

Rebounding is his main area of needed improvement.

"He just needs to move out of his area to go get the ball and read where the ball is coming," Romar said. "He has a tendency to stand flat-footed when the ball goes up and not reading and moving to go get it."

That, too, has required a balancing act, Hawes said, explaining that he has sometimes waited too long to go after the ball while concentrating so much on blocking out.

Maybe the biggest test of his patience, however, has come in negotiating UW's early schedule, which has included a couple of tests but mostly easy pop quizzes, when many other teams have advanced straight to mid-terms.

"It's difficult to watch all these games early because you're like, 'Man, that looks like so much fun out there,' " Hawes said of catching contests such as Gonzaga's win over North Carolina on TV.

Saturday, what he calls "my biggest challenge" finally arrives.

"This is what you sign up for, games like this and rivalries like this," he said. "I can't wait."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. Read his blogs on Washington football and basketball at www.seattletimes.com/huskies.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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Football schedule

DateOpponentTimeTV
Sept. 2San Jose StateW, 35-29
Sept. 9at OklahomaL, 37-20
Sept. 16Fresno StateW, 21-20
Sept. 23UCLAW, 29-19
Sept. 30at ArizonaW, 21-10
Oct. 7at USCL, 26-20
Oct. 14Oregon StateL, 27-17
Oct. 21at CaliforniaL, 31-24, OT
Oct. 28Arizona StateL, 26-23, OT
Nov. 4at OregonL, 34-14
Nov. 11StanfordL, 20-3
Nov. 18at Washington StateW, 35-32

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