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Hawking Takes Flight as Basketball Coach at Air Force Prep School : Former Simi Valley High Point Guard Follows Career Footsteps of His Father

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Two years ago, Air Force Lt. Butch Hawking found himself at one of life’s crossroads.

The United States wanted him to clamp a tool belt around his waist, step into a pair of overalls and supervise the maintenance of F-16s and other multimillion-dollar aircraft.

Hawking, a former Simi Valley High point guard who along with rising NBA star Don MacLean and others powered the Pioneers to the Southern Section 4-A Division championship in 1988, wanted to put a pair of short pants around his waist, step into a gym and bounce a basketball.

The United States never knew what hit it.

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Today, Coach Hawking smiles at the memory.

He is in his second season as coach of the basketball team at the U.S. Air Force Academy Prep School, a 200-student school for those who earned an appointment to the academy but were grade-deficient. Not grade-deficient in the usual, athlete-type way, but deficient often because their high schools did not offer enough advanced classes in math and science.

You do not hear students strolling the majestic campus of the Air Force Academy or the adjacent prep school saying things like, “I ain’t have breakfast yet.” Wear your cap backward at this school and you’re likely to find other things on your body backward too.

Hawking, 23, played for the Air Force Academy team in the Western Athletic Conference for four seasons, although sparingly. He used the time on the bench, he said, to formulate his own strategies and philosophy on the game.

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He graduated in 1992, commissioned as all graduating cadets are as a lieutenant. In exchange for the coveted four-year education paid for by taxpayers, there is a six-year obligation to the Air Force. For Hawking, the assignment was aircraft maintenance supervisor. The game of basketball, it seemed, was over, a game Hawking fell in love with the very first time he dribbled--down his chin.

“I put a basketball in his crib,” said Bob Hawking, his father and his coach at Simi Valley High who is now an assistant at Cal State Fullerton. “He played with that basketball before he could crawl.”

The Air Force Academy, however, teaches assertiveness. And Butch Hawking, mulling a life without basketball, a chunk of the next decade spent with aviation fuel on his hands instead of the smooth, pebbled leather of a ball, decided to wage a battle.

The prep school happened to have an opening for the position of basketball coach. The job, by government regulation, was to be filled by a captain, with classroom teaching experience. The lieutenant with no teaching experience put on his dress blues and shiniest shoes and went to see Col. Hal Meyer, head of the prep school.

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During the meeting it is believed Hawking set a United States Armed Forces record for the use of the word sir .

A week later, he wore short pants once again, along with a smile that lit up the towering Rocky Mountains that serve as the backdrop of the academy.

Hawking is somewhat reserved in describing his reaction to the news that he was a basketball coach instead of a guy with a wrench. “Let’s say I was excited,” he said.

Let’s say the last guy at the academy who yelled as loudly as Hawking did that joyful day was someone who inadvertently slammed the cockpit hatch cover of an F-14 on his nose.

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The dream, however, could end at any time, with the Air Force assigning him to work at a more mundane endeavor for the remaining years of his military pay-back.

But today, 13 athletes run the floor hard under the direction of Hawking.

Looking not much older than his players, he leaves no doubt that he is in charge. Barking orders, telling and showing his players how to shoot, pass, dribble, fight themselves open under the basket, he shows the same fire he did as a player.

And in drills, Hawking snaps passes all over the court, the orange ball whistling between defenders as it did when he was feeding MacLean a steady diet of easy baskets in high school.

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The easiest part, Hawking said, is getting his players to understand a skill or the design of a play. Some of these young men will fly the world’s most sophisticated aircraft one day. Learning a two-three zone defense doesn’t take a week.

During brief practice breaks, the cadets-to-be talk like regular teen-agers. Some call each other “homeboy,” and you have to suppress a laugh. If these teen-agers are gang-types, well, Pat Riley doesn’t care what his hair looks like.

These are young men who nearly set their Scholastic Aptitude Test answer sheets on fire with so many correct answers.

“In a way, my first coaching job might be my easiest,” Hawking said. “These are goal-oriented people, the hardest workers and brightest players you could imagine. I don’t ever have to tell them to play hard. They do everything hard. And they don’t feel they have to play hard, they want to play hard.”

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The results, however, have not been as rosy. Playing against some of the top junior colleges in the nation, Hawking’s team posted a 5-18 record last season. The Huskies have started slowly this year too, losing five of their first six games.

For Hawking, whose Simi Valley teams seldom lost, the adjustment has not been easy.

“It took me a while to deal with it,” he said. “I just was not used to losing. But this is different. We have the obvious disadvantage of only having a team for one year. . . . 100% turnover each season.

“And, I make the schedule, and I decided the only way to do it was to take on the best teams in the nation. I’m preparing these guys for a career at the academy, playing WAC teams. I want them to play the best. It makes them tougher.

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“It’s the competitive thing in me.”

Ah, the competitive thing.

Ah, Bob Hawking.

“Since I can remember, my father and I competed,” the younger Hawking said. “From basketball to anything. We ride in the car listening to the radio and the first guy to correctly name 10 songs wins. If he wins, he shakes his finger in my face and laughs. If I win, I shake my finger and laugh. It’s been like that. In everything.”

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The bond between father and son was sometimes strained during the Simi Valley High days. Commonly in such situations, a father wants desperately to make sure no one ever says the kid got the job because of dad.

And so Butch Hawking became the target of Bob Hawking’s harshest criticism.

“There’s no doubt my father was tougher on me than on any other player,” Hawking said. “I heard very few compliments. At times, it was hard to deal with. But looking back, the toughness that he created in me is the reason I was able to succeed.

“It was definitely the reason I was successful at the Air Force Academy. Some days it was brutally tough, the classwork, the discipline required. But I was ready for it.”

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His players today see the toughness. But they also see the soft side of Hawking. A few of them went to his home for Thanksgiving dinner. Players often drop by his house to watch movies and talk.

“We respect him because he’s been here, he went through the academy, he knows what it’s like,” said Lonnie Cakerice, a guard on the team. “We’re up at 5:30 every morning, in bed by 11 every night, and in between, it’s very, very hard work.

“But Coach has been there. If we complain about life here, he looks at us and smiles and you know he’s thinking, ‘Hey, I did it.’ ”

At Cal State Fullerton, Bob Hawking says he wasn’t sure he wanted his son to begin coaching. A lifetime of it can be hazardous to one’s health.

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He talks about Butch being different from him, about feeling at one point that the “apple fell a long way from the tree.”

But deep in his heart, he knew his son’s love for the game would not be extinguished easily.

“Butch is doing what he wants to do, doing something he really loves, and that is the key to life,” Hawking said. “Coaching is the next best thing to playing. I knew a long time ago just how much he loved the game.”

The son now sends the father tapes of his team in action. The father watches, but there is no blending of the minds. The son is on his own.

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“He doesn’t ask me for advice,” Bob Hawking said. “He has his way of doing things. But in the tapes I see things. I see the same things we did at Simi Valley incorporated into his team. The pressure defense, the up-tempo offense.

“Osmosis, I guess.”

And through the years, the competitiveness has faded a bit. Now, it is the son who must spur the feelings.

“I told my father one day we’d both be head coaches at the Division I level, and our teams would face each other for the national championship,” Butch Hawking said. “And I told him my team would kick his team’s butt.”

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A thousand miles away, a veteran coach smiles.

“I told him,” Bob Hawking said, “that all I’m hoping is that when he gets a head coaching job, he hires me as an assistant. With a pretty decent salary.”


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