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Saturday, March 17, 2007 - Page updated at 09:02 PM

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Steve Kelley

Days like this might make UW's Hawes stick around

Seattle Times staff columnist

For the first time since he came to Washington, for the first time since NBA scouts started attending his games, swapping notes and stories and expectations, the idea of 7-foot freshman Spencer Hawes returning for another season of college basketball doesn't feel like so many purple-blooded pipe dreams.

Deep into his first year of college, Hawes is digging life on Montlake. The game is slowing down. The pressure isn't quite as intense. And all the unique, personal spoils of college life remain his to spend.

One-and-done might turn into one-more-run.

"The pieces are falling together," said his best friend, sophomore Jon Brockman, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds in Washington's 61-51 win Saturday over second-ranked UCLA. "Spencer's loving college basketball. He's loving college right now."

Paradoxically, Hawes played like a first-round pick against UCLA.

Early in the game he caught a pass, turned quickly and hit a fallaway jumper. Then he pump-faked UCLA's Lorenzo Mata into the air and made a jump hook as Washington scored the game's first nine points.

And with every spin, every rebound, every blocked shot, the building shook as if a conference championship were hanging on the outcome.

In the din of Hec Ed, on a day when the building was as hot and as loud and as electric as any gym in the nation, Hawes hung 13 points, 15 rebounds and five blocked shots on the Bruins.

And if a day like this, in an atmosphere this fervid, can't lure him back for another season, nothing will.

"If he leaves and does whatever he'll do in the NBA, he'll never have another day that compares with today," said Bill Frieder, the former Michigan and Arizona State coach who called the game for Westwood One radio. "I'll be pulling for him to stay.

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"I always pull for kids to stay because you can never replace this college experience. My advice would be for him to stay another year at least. The opportunity to go to the NBA will always be there."

One-more-run. It no longer seems preposterous.

For instance, Brockman and Hawes went to the Tacoma Dome on Wednesday night to watch Franklin High School senior Venoy Overton, the Huskies' point-guard-in-waiting, in the first round of the state tournament.

"He [Overton] is a quick dude who can pass the ball big time," Brockman said. "And when Spencer was watching, his eyes kind of lit up and got real big like, 'Wow, I could be catching those passes next season.' "

Hawes has been plagued by a career's worth of bad breaks in this showcase season in the Pac-10. He had knee surgery in October. And an ankle sprain later. He got sick in January, losing some 20 pounds and all of the momentum he had built from strong games in late December against Louisiana State and USC.

He withstood the wrath of the bloggers, who expected him to be a combination of Bill Walton and Bill Russell from the get-go. He survived the inconsistencies of this 18-12 season. And learned to relax and enjoy life inside his hoop crucible.

"He's finally seeing how much fun college basketball is. Games like this are what we've worked for all these summers," said Brockman, an AAU teammate of Hawes' with Friends of Hoop. "He's starting to see that this is what makes it worthwhile."

This was a game that belonged in March and a day when Hawes showed off his entire hoops repertoire.

"He's a big guy who's got nice skills," Frieder said. "He has a lot of good moves inside, but he can go outside, handle the basketball, good passer. He's a big guy who knows how to play. Sets screens. He'll be a good pro, when he decides to go."

But now the urgency to leave might be lifting.

Hawes could stay for the fun of it, like Florida big man Joakim Noah did this season. Like Noah, Hawes doesn't need the money. And he has seen enough NBA basketball to know that the game becomes a business and the business isn't always flaming-hot afternoons in front of adoring peer groups.

"I'm not going to start getting ahead of myself and start looking forward to that," Hawes said of the NBA. "I'm not worrying about that. If we win and I play well, that will take care of itself."

As he walked across the court yesterday for a postgame radio interview, the Washington student section chanted to Hawes, "Three more years! Three more years!"

He waved back at them and pumped a fist in the air.

"When they started chanting that, it kind of made me stop and think a little bit," Hawes said.

Then he shrugged and said, "We'll see."

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

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