Maryland's Prince George's County, like much of the Washington D.C. area, produces some of the best talent in college basketball. Most of that talent has come through one of the region's many esteemed AAU Basketball Programs. One in particular, the highly regarded DC Assault, has produced players who are attending colleges across the country -- including Towson guard Byron Hawkins.
After arriving at Towson as a freshman during a rebuilding season in 2014-15, Hawkins has emerged this season as the lynchpin in the Tigers' offense. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore point guard said the style in which he plays the game is largely due to his background as a Prince George's County native.
"Most P.G. County players are pretty versatile," Hawkins said. "They can shoot it and drive it, or they can dribble and shoot. When you talk about New York guard(s), most New York guards can dribble extremely well, but they can't shoot. I feel like the P.G. County and [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] type of kids are pretty versatile and can do it all, and some have great fundamentals. ... That's still what I'm trying to achieve and trying to perfect, but I feel like that's my game."
The starting five on the 2013-14 Assault team all went on to play for Division I programs. In addition to Hawkins, guard Melo Trimble (Maryland), forwards Donte Grantham (Clemson) and Rashard Kelly (Wichita State) and center Chinanu Onuaku (Louisville) are all making contributions to their respective teams.
As is the case with many elite AAU programs, these results came at the cost of a year-round commitment from their players. Counting tournament play, practices and camps, many AAU players in the region do not see much of an offseason.
Hawkins said that since his aspirations to play basketball at an elite level began at 10, he hasn't known another way to play the game.
"You give up your whole summer," Hawkins said. "You get August, maybe a couple days in August to yourself. Other than that, you're traveling; you're in tournaments. It's pretty much the same [in college] now. You're here during the summer working out the whole time. You get about 20 days in August, but that's the sacrifice you have to be willing to make to really want to be good at this game. It all pays off in the end somehow, some way. Whether it be in basketball or your job, you really [have to] have the discipline to stay focused on something."
Some younger players can be overwhelmed by the busy schedule such a commitment demands.
"There's always going to be a lull through all of that," Hawkins said. "You're just going and going. Eventually, you're going to have a moment when you feel like you can't go anymore."
For Hawkins, he almost reached that moment when he first arrived at Towson for summer school shortly after graduating from Clinton Christian. But he said he was able to avoid burnout with help from his teammates and his mother, who provided emotional support.
Towson head coach Pat Skerry said Hawkins arrived under a less-than-ideal circumstance, as a talented player with a great work ethic, but not much of a supporting cast. Towson graduated four starters in 2014, right before Hawkins arrived.
"I believe that point guard is the hardest position on the floor," Skerry said. "He kind of got thrown into a difficult situation. It was a young team. He didn't have great veteran leadership around him. So his numbers were pretty good, but with mixed results. Now, he's doing a great job of not turning it over, and obviously his shooting percentage has gone up, which, to me, is because he's taking good shots."
During the 2014-15 season, Hawkins shot 33.8 percent from the floor and averaged 7.3 points per game. He was also one of two players on the team with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio at plus-1.11.
Through the first 16 games this season, the sophomore guard has made 43.2 percent of his field goals and is averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game to go along with a plus-1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Aside from Hawkins' improved offensive output, Skerry said he wanted to see the guard develop more physical strength during the offseason. Hawkins quickly answered. As he has done since the age of 10, Hawkins began his offseason shortly after the 2014-15 season ended.
"Right after we lost in the playoffs, I was back in the gym," Hawkins said. "I always stay consistent, stay in the gym, and I was really working on my body. I feel stronger out there, more confident definitely."