Center of attention

Hawley still adjusting to role as Mavs' middle man

Colorado Mesa’s Nate Hawley, front, boxes out DJ Wells during a recent practice. Injuries have forced Hawley, a 6-foot-5 senior forward who is more at home on the perimeter, to play inside as the Mavs’ starting center.


Holiday Inn-Airport
Thanksgiving Classic

Friday’s Games

1 p.m. — Western State vs. Western New Mexico (women)

3 p.m. — Western State vs. Midwestern State (men)

5 p.m. — Colorado Mesa vs. Bethany (women)

7 p.m. — Colorado Mesa vs. MSU-Billings (men)

Saturday’s Games

1 p.m. — Western State vs. Bethany (women)

3 p.m. — Western State vs. MSU-Billings (men)

5 p.m. — Colorado Mesa vs. Western New Mexico (women)

7 p.m. — Colorado Mesa vs. Midwestern State (men)

Note: Fans will receive a free general admission ticket with a donation of a new or used winter clothing item (coats, hats, gloves, mittens), to be donated to Partners of Grand Junction.

For three years, the report on Nate Hawley has been steady: 3-ball, corner pocket.

This season, the 6-foot-5 senior forward for the Colorado Mesa men’s basketball team won’t be running through screens from baseline to baseline. The corner-3 shooter is now the Mavericks’ starting “center.”

“It’s different,” Hawley said Tuesday after practice, “definitely different.”

When Filip Nowicki, a 6-10 junior transfer from Sacred Heart, injured his left foot before the practice even began, the CMU coaching staff started looking at options.

DJ Wells, a 6-7 forward, was coming off a redshirt season, and despite going up against big men Ryan Stephan and Trevor Van Tassel in practice every day last season, he’s still learning the college game. Ditto for Ludvig Saldh, a 6-8 freshman from Gothenburg, Sweden, who is more of a perimeter player.

Hey, how about Nate Hawley?

“He had a little bit more experience. Our other two bigs are freshmen, so Nate knows what we’re trying to do on both ends and really tries to do what we want,” coach Andy Shantz said. “Trying to get to a front and help him from behind. We’re still trying to figure that out a little bit. He expends a lot of energy on the defensive end, but he’s doing a great job.

“Our situation is what it is. We have to figure out ways to compete.”

CMU does not allow its coaches to comment on injuries, but it’s doubtful Nowicki will play at all this season. Once his foot heals enough to get out of the orthotic boot — he still isn’t to the weight-bearing stage — there will be rehabilitation and the task of getting a big guy in playing shape.

He can take a medical redshirt season and have two years remaining, so this season looks to be up to Hawley and Wells to provide post defense and the Mavs to do some creative scoring inside. Mesa’s motion offense can provide that, with players cutting to the basket off screens and creating some mismatches.

Wells has a long, angular body and a soft touch around the rim, so he can score inside. Hawley’s offensive role won’t look anything like a true post.

“Offensively I’m playing the same way I always have, more pick-and-pop, set lots of screens and roll to the basket occasionally,” the former Montrose shooter said. “I’m not like Ryan down there with my back to the basket posting up. It’s a lot different this year.”

The new-look Mavs debut at home at 7 p.m. on Friday against Montana State-Billings (1-3) in the Holiday Inn-Airport Thanksgiving Classic at Brownson Arena. Saturday night, CMU (1-3) plays Midwestern State, Texas (4-1).

The biggest challenge Hawley has faced is being physical inside without fouling, knowing he can’t afford to pick up cheap fouls.

“I’m getting matched up usually against the biggest kid on the other team, who’s usually a lot bigger than me with these teams, which is different,” he said. “There’s a lot less running around to guard shooters and being more physical down low. I’m trying to play bigger than I am. I’m used to it a little bit because I’ve had to play bigger guys in the past, just not all the time.”

Rebounding against bigger men is also a sizeable task, but Shantz doesn’t expect Hawley to be Mesa’s leading rebounder.

“I have to work really hard boxing these guys out and getting to the front, things like that,” Hawley said.

“The big thing for me is try not to let my guy get the rebound. I don’t necessarily have to get a lot of rebounds for this team, I just have to keep my guy, the center, from getting a lot of rebounds, and let the guards clean up behind me.”

The Mavericks drill every day on boxing out and maintaining the box-out after the first contact so the guards can come in and pick up the rebound.

Hawley averages 2.8 boards and 6.5 points a game. The other four starters are all scoring in double figures, led by guard CJ Davis’ 18.3. James Sylvester, the Mavs’ other staring wing, adds 11.8, Connor Nichols 10.8 and point guard Eimer Lopez 10.3.

Nichols, a 6-6 sophomore forward, leads Mesa in rebounding with 6.8 a game.

Wells, who scored 22 points against Diné University last weekend in the Mavericks’
120-33 rout of the first-year program, gives CMU a little more size off the bench — and Hawley a much-needed breather.

“He’s gotten way better since last year and he’s getting better every day,” Hawley said of Wells. “He’s going to be a big part of things this year, we need him.”

The Mavs also need Hawley, who gets advice each day from Van Tassel, who is serving as an assistant coach this season.

As they all adapt to new roles, the Mavs’ execution on both ends of the floor has improved.

“It’s gotten better, no questions,” Shantz said. “Even with returners, when you take that big a chunk out of your offense and how you ran it ... Everyone deals with changes so much from one year to the next.

“We did improve a lot last weekend. Wayland Baptist is a really good team and we had some opportunities to win that one. We had some great looks, I mean great looks, down the stretch and they just didn’t fall.

“We’re executing. We need to hit some more shots, like everybody does.”


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