I called Demetrius on Saturday night as I watched UNLV and Justin Hawkins take on No. 25. Wisconsin. “Are you watching this game,” I asked Demetrius. He was not, he said, he had just got back from a workout. “Well, you should watch,” I said, “and focus on the way Justin plays defense. He’s amazing right now.”
In the second half, Justin switched over to defend star Badgers guard Jordan Taylor and absolutely owned him. Taylor scored 16 points in the first half but only three after the intermission and it is no overstatement to say Justin’s defense on him was the difference in the game. Additionally, Justin stole an inbounds pass in the final seconds and then made two free throws to secure the Runnin’ Rebels 68-65 victory.
I wrote at length about what a good defender Justin was as a young player in Play Their Hearts Out, but I must admit I had doubts that skill would translate as it has to the college level. Last season, I talked to UNLV coach Lon Kruger and he basically said that Justin’s defense was so good he had forced his way into the team’s rotation even though there were several more experienced guards on the roster. This year, Justin has gotten stronger but not slower and he remains a special defensive player. The two free throws he made against Wisconsin were his only points of the night, proof that you don't need to score to be an impact player.
Here’s an article from the Las Vegas Sun about Justin’s role in the game that includes a nice photo of him: