If Ryan Hawkins' college career had ended after another dominant season of Division II ball in which he strengthened lifelong bonds with a close-knit group of teammates, he wouldn't have complained.
He scored 2,098 career points at Northwest Missouri State. He was on the roster for three D-II national championship teams.
"I had probably the best college experience a kid could have," he said.
But now Hawkins has this extra year.
The pandemic prompted the NCAA to extend basketball players' eligibility clock one more season — and at some point after winning a title in March, the 6-foot-7 forward started thinking about what to do next.
There were no bad options, he said. But ultimately, the guy who never could turn down a chance to compete as a kid — he grew up playing as many sports as possible — soul-searched and found that he was ready for a new test.
So he's headed to Creighton for his final season of college. Hawkins announced his commitment on Twitter on Monday.
"I think I would regret not trying it," he said. "I have a free year, essentially, to go do what I want. Why not try and prove myself and experience something different, something I haven't had the opportunity to explore yet?"
Hawkins is the first transfer addition to the Jays' 2021-22 roster, which includes four reserves from last year's team, a three-man 2021 recruiting class and two redshirts. CU's still on the hunt for more additions — possibly a center and a shooting guard.
And since defined roles haven't been solidified yet, with all five starters moving on after a Sweet 16 berth, there's plenty of potential playing time for Creighton to advertise.
That was one of the alluring factors for Hawkins.
As was the program's recent run of success. And the close proximity of CU's campus to his hometown of Atlantic, Iowa. And the Jays' playing style — he just collaborated with a Northwest squad that assisted on half of its made field goals last year. And the chance to try out his moves and skills against Big East competition.
"Just by watching Creighton and talking with the coaching staff, it's pretty evident that the style of basketball they play fits in with what my game is," Hawkins said. "I'll have to work at it this summer to fine-tune everything and get better. But just the way they move the ball offensively and how they guard the ball defensively, it's all stuff that I'm excited about."
He does plan to take a deep breath to recharge a bit, just for the next couple weeks — he’s not used to many prolonged breaks.
Hawkins was the high schooler whose daily routine took him from soccer workouts to baseball practice to the gym. "Anything to stay active," he said.
Then he devoted himself to hoops at Northwest, showing improvement each year. He was especially effective over his last two seasons in Division II, averaging 22.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game while shooting 55.1% from the floor and 45.7% from 3-point range.
Hawkins was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Elite Eight Division II championship in March, recording 31 points and 18 rebounds in the title game. That capped a memorable season, Hawkins said.
He's hoping for a special encore at Creighton.
"I'm excited to get better and have fun while doing it," he said.