Ka'Shya Hawkins moves at her own pace — and that’s one few can keep up with. The Mastic Beach native appeared in her initial varsity basketball game as an eighth-grader, less than a year after first picking up a ball. Less than four years later, Hawkins had high-level Division I programs around the country recruiting her.
But Hawkins, a senior at Long Island Lutheran, is used to moving quickly. Hawkins began running track at age 6 and always thought that would take her to college. And in an indirect route, it did. She had natural speed, athleticism and leaping ability from running track and when a coach saw her play basketball for fun in the gym with her older brothers, Hawkins was convinced to try basketball in middle school.
Hawkins played at Floyd, Christ the King and LuHi since that day. And on Wednesday in the Long Island Lutheran chapel, Hawkins announced she’ll next play at Syracuse on a full scholarship. Syracuse was her first official visit and as she looked into other schools such as Memphis, Seton Hall, Penn State and UCF, the 6-2 forward couldn’t get the Orange out of her mind.
“Even on my visits, I just couldn’t stop thinking about Syracuse,” Hawkins told Newsday before making her official announcement. “My dad would always say, ‘You have to think about other options,’ but for some reason, I just had my head set on Syracuse. I just always knew.”
Hawkins, a Newsday All-Long Island second-team selection last season after averaging 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds for LuHi against the top competition in the country, said she enjoyed the recruitment process and felt a strong connection with Syracuse coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
“When I got there, I just got this feeling,” Hawkins said. “And when I watched their practice, I could see Coach Jack’s passion for the game and her emotions while she’s practicing. I felt like I would want a coach like that and I just felt more comfortable in that environment. I could just see myself on the court.”
LuHi coach Christina Raiti said Hawkins’ talent goes beyond athleticism. Raiti has seen Hawkins work on her fundamentals, shooting and defense to become a pivotal member of a Crusaders team that went 23-3 last season, winning the state Class AA Federation championship and making the GEICO Nationals before losing to Montverde Academy, 60-54, in the final.
“The unique thing about Shy is her best basketball is ahead of her,” Raiti said. “Her roof is insanely high. Even when she got here, she had only played organized basketball for a couple of years and the growth she’s had from when she started here to now entering her senior year is tremendous."
Raiti thinks Syracuse is a perfect fit for Hawkins.
“I think she’s really going to have an opportunity to do something special there, which is what it’s all about,” Raiti said. “She’s the type of kid who needs to go to a place that’s going to continue to push her but that’s also going to believe in her.”
Hawkins said she was open to going anywhere in the country, but she’s happy to be staying in New York. But Syracuse was about fit, not location. Hawkins, the youngest of six children of Patrick and Gwen Hawkins, said she’s thankful for her family’s support and encouraging her basketball dreams as she got older.
“Everybody saw the potential in me, so I just took it seriously and worked on certain things every single day and I started getting better,” Hawkins said. “I made the [Floyd] varsity team in eighth grade and I just started playing, so that kind of told me something was there.”
Raiti said Hawkins can already touch the rim and the coach believes Hawkins will be dunking one day. When Hawkins runs the court in transition, that inner track star shines.
“Sometimes she does things and we look at each other as a staff like, ‘Holy moly, I don’t think she even knows how good that was,’ " Raiti said. “And those are things you can’t teach.”
Hawkins thinks back to when she was first noticed and can’t believe how quickly her game has evolved. She’s excited to see what’s next.
“I really couldn’t imagine any of this, honestly,” Hawkins said. “I always thought I’d still be running track and taking it somewhere with that. Basketball was never really a thought.”
“We have not seen her best basketball yet,” Raiti said. “And that’s a great thing to see.”