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Sunday, May 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

NBA rule gives Hawes — and Huskies — a break

Special to The Seattle Times

So Spencer Hawes called Jake Locker, and they both talked about their futures at the University of Washington.

Seldom have the preeminent sports — football and men's basketball — had such messiah recruits, and perhaps never in the same year.

Locker is the rough-and-tumble quarterback, the Chris Chandler of another time, the football recruit Tyrone Willingham just had to have.

Hawes is the 7-foot center who one basketball wag — Frank Burlison of the Long Beach Press-Telegram — predicts will not only be the freshman of the year next season in the Pac-10, but the player of the year.

Locker had the choice of entering the pro baseball draft or honoring his commitment to play college football at Washington. Hawes had no such choice.

For the first time in years, high-school basketball players can't go directly to the NBA. Just in time for Hawes and his class, the NBA demanded players be a year out of high school and at least 19 years old.

As a parent, I wondered how the Hawes family was viewing Spencer's career — and all that money — being put on hold. There was serious talk that had he been eligible for this year's draft, Hawes might have been a lottery pick, as high-schoolers Robert Swift and Martell Webster had been before him.

Hawes, frankly, couldn't appreciate Locker's angst on his baseball-vs.-football decision. Baseball money — a couple of million, maybe — isn't basketball money. Be a Husky, he said.

Webster, Hawes' teammate at Seattle Prep who a year ago committed to Washington, signed instead for $12 million guaranteed with the Portland Trail Blazers — even though he was to spend part of this NBA season in the minor leagues.

"Frankly, we're relieved," said Lisa Hawes, Spencer's mother. "We very much wanted him to have the college experience."

The new NBA rule seems like a reasonable compromise, delaying, not denying, high-school kids a chance to make a living. The new rule can be viewed as a gentle speed bump on the way to fame and fortune, a vote for the virtues of delayed gratification.

"It's different for different families," continued Lisa Hawes. "Martell had other issues. He had family members who needed money. He had dealt with serious injury in high school.

"Spence doesn't have those issues. And you know what? If he's injured, he's injured."

Who knows what Hawes might have done had the NBA not changed its rules. Undoubtedly, he would have made the decision, not his parents, as had been the case when he picked schools.

"I would have signed at North Carolina," said Lisa Hawes, with a laugh. "I was pretty impressed by Roy Williams."

The Haweses are delighted their son decided to stay home. As they made the circuit of all-star games with him this spring they realized how unusual that was.

"I think Spence was the only player staying in his hometown," his mother said. "I think we all realize the benefit of the campus being eight minutes from our home."

Lisa Hawes had an interesting perspective. Because of her son's friendship with Webster, the Haweses saw an all-star game the year before as well.

"This," she said of her son's class, "is a much nicer group of kids."

What she may have seen in part was the new NBA rule kicking in, the kids and parents celebrating their choice of colleges rather than fretting about their places in the upcoming draft.

"I think before the rule change they saw themselves competing with each other for an NBA future," she said. "For many of them, the rule was a gift. The stands at the all-star games weren't filled with NBA scouts. It gave them another year to be kids."

Lorenzo Romar, the Washington coach, said the forced one-year college stint would not only give the Huskies a year with Hawes, but give them a chance to make him part of their team and their program. In other words, they'll spend the year recruiting him all over again.

"Spence is already talking two years," said his mother. "Who knows, he might stay for four years at Washington. He's a bright kid. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up in law school."

The Haweses are trying to preach reality in an unreal world.

When their son — who had just gotten a full-blown college scholarship — talked about a new car, his parents said he would be driving whatever car they weren't.

"He told Lorenzo that he was going to Washington before he told us," said Lisa Hawes. "He's making his own decisions, but we're there to give him guidance."

With a little help from the NBA.

Comments for Blaine Newnham can be e-mailed to sports@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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