Photo courtesy of St. Francis College Athletics.
By David Cordova
In every state in America, there are plenty of youths with hoop dreams that aspire to see their dreams come true. One dream that many young ballers have is that they want to play on the Division I level. Chances are that many may never be able to accomplish that feat. However, the ones that do make it, work as hard as they can to maintain their scholarships and make it through to graduation.
In the case of Jalen Jordan and Chauncey Hawkins, such is the case. Both of them were lightly-recruited coming out of high school and are now reaping the benefits of their labor as sophomores at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York.
Jordan, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard and Hawkins, a 5-foot-8 point guard, are both players that can score in bunches, but are also competitors that are driven to win every time they get on the court. After being overlooked for so long, they are making themselves seen with their effort on the court.
“What motivates me is to just get better and win,” said Jordan. “I’m really not the best loser, I just like to win every game I play and every time I step foot on the court, I’m just a winner.”
“My mother and my grandmother, just seeing them have to struggle and just knowing how hard I have to work, because I see how hard they work,” said Hawkins on what motivates him to be successful.
Both players have roots in the New York metropolitan area. Jordan was born and raised in Brentwood, Long Island, but now resides in Conyers, Georgia, which is 24 miles east of Atlanta. Hawkins was born and raised in the South Bronx, but now resides in Spring Valley, which is located in Rockland County.
“The Bronx, growing up there was tough,” said Hawkins, “and then going to school in Harlem, you get the best of both worlds. After that, I moved upstate and I went to school in New Jersey. My parents still work in The Bronx, so having all of those different realms of society really helped me [grow] into the man I am today. It helped me be smart, but also have respect and have proper etiquette.”
“Georgia, I would say I was more so raised, because I lived in Brentwood for 10, 11 years and then I moved to Georgia, and that’s where I started growing up and understanding more of life. Definitely the learning lessons of every day life,” said Jordan about his upbringing down south.
When asked about the basketball culture down south in comparison to New York, Jordan replied, “The basketball culture is much different from New York. Definitely New York is, I would say blood, sweat & tears of basketball more so than down south. [Over there], it’s football. But there’s good basketball in Georgia as well.”
On his version of the city game as opposed to Rockland County, Hawkins replied, “I didn’t play much in Rockland County, but the city game is more ooh’s and aahs, and then upstate or in Jersey, it’s more like, fundamentals, it’s more of being a pro and doing moves that are beneficial, like scoring or helping your team.”
During their high school days, both players were the featured player on their respective teams.
Jordan first went to Rockdale County High School, where he averaged 17.5 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals and was named the Region 2 6A Player of the Year and was a 1,000-point scorer. Then he would go on to do a post-grad year at National Top Sports Institute in Scotland, Pennsylvania, where he averaged 18.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and five assists per game.
Hawkins was a standout at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, New Jersey, where he averaged 17 points per game as a junior and 18.6 points per game as a senior. While in high school, he also scored 1,198 career points.
When asked about his prep school career, Jordan replied, “Scotland was fun, I definitely enjoyed every second I was there. I want to thank Coach [Chris] Chaney, and everybody on their coaching staff that believed in me and gave me an opportunity to play, I definitely want to thank them a lot.”
When asked about his high school career at St. Joseph, which included a near upset of national powerhouse St. Benedict’s Prep and an actual upset of Hudson Catholic in a state sectional playoff game as a junior, Hawkins replied, “My years at St. Joe’s-Montvale, it was an amazing journey. It was tough, because, we’re not really know as a [big-time] basketball school, so I just wanted to put us on the map, and hard work and dedication really did that. And knocking those guys (Hudson Catholic) and almost beating St. Benedict’s was really a stepping stone in the right direction, because it helped not only just me, but it helped scouts, recruiters, whoever, just look at our school and see that we actually have talent and then, not only just my school, but North Jersey and Rockland County, as well. And those big games, those big moments, it was amazing, because I know how much it did for me individually and I was just happy to make my mom proud, too.”
In the spring of 2017, both Jordan and Hawkins, found themselves with a scholarship at St. Francis, which is the self-proclaimed “School of Big Dreams,” and both signed their letters of intent, blessed to have a free education and blessed to play a game that they both love.
“Oh, man, a scholarship at St. Francis is a blessing, and I appreciate them (the coaching staff) for taking a chance on a 5-8 guard, knowing that a lot of other schools didn’t take the chance on me because they felt I was too small, I wasn’t ready. It brought tears to my eyes once I heard they were offering me and after that, more offers started to roll in, but as soon as they offered, I committed because they were loyal to me since they met me, and I appreciate that. Loyalty goes a long way,” said Hawkins.
“Well, first off, New York is home, and just being in the city, the environment. St. Francis is a small school, and I tend to do well in small schools and thrive in that type of opportunity, and my family is out here, a lot of my family lives in Brooklyn,” said Jordan.
Both players would be playing for Glenn Braica, who is ninth season at the helm as the head coach of the Terriers. Braica is a passionate coach who demands nothing but excellence from his players on the court, but is also supportive of them in whatever endeavors they pursue off the court.
“Coach Braica is a terrific coach, he makes us play real hard and he gives us an edge that I guess, we kind of mimic him, because we play just like him,” said Jordan.
“Coach Braica, he’s a character. I love him, I love Coach Braica. He gets the most out of you, he always pushes you, he doesn’t care who you are and I really appreciate that, because sometimes I love a guy that’s on my case, a guy that’s pushing me constantly because it makes me go hard and I know that I may not be going as hard as I can, and he always gets that out of me. I just love his style of play, his belief in me and I appreciate him for even giving me an offer, and I just hope that this season continues to be successful,” said Hawkins.
Last season, both players shined in their respective roles for the Terriers. Jordan started in 30 games and averaged 11.1 points per game and earned himself a spot on the NEC All-Rookie Team. Hawkins came off the bench and averaged 6.6 points per game. Unfortunately, the Terriers suffered through a dismal 13-18 season and lost in the quarterfinals of the NEC Tournament to the eventual champions, LIU Brooklyn. But that was only the beginning for the two guards.
On how he felt about his freshman season, Hawkins replied, “Freshman year was filled with a lot of downs, but mostly downs. It was just terrible. This sophomore season, I’ve been trying to battle that and play better. That freshman year was really a learning experience, because I really developed a key IQ that you have to have to play Division I basketball.”
Jordan added: “Being a freshman last year was fun, definitely learned a lot. Second year, you could definitely see what they were trying to teach you that first year, by defensive mistakes, being in the right spots on defense. This second year helped a lot, but then my freshman year, it was truly a blessing.”
In the present day, the team’s fortunes have turned around as they are currently 12-7 on the season, heading into tonight’s road game at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in Teaneck, New Jersey. This season, Jordan is the leading scorer for the Terriers, with 16.5 points per game and adding 3.6 rebounds. Hawkins has stepped up his performance this season, averaging 11.1 points per game.
On this current season, Jordan added: “Well, I want to thank my teammates for giving me the ball in the right spots and the right opportunities and just trusting in me and my scoring ability, but it feels good. I put in the work, I really work every day in my craft, I try to be the best player I can be every day.”
Hawkins added: “This season so far early on has been successful, but right now I’m in a slump, and I just need to figure out how to get out of it, because you’re not going to play well every game, and I have to learn to be more consistent and make our team more consistent from when we win, because we can have highs and lows when we keep going up and down like a rollercoaster. I just have to continue to be better, because when I become better, the team becomes better.”
This season, Hawkins has been one of the team’s defensive stoppers. His diminutive size shouldn’t fool anyone, because he has the heart of a lion. “Being short, it’s just, you’re not playing a game of basketball that’s designed for you. You’re playing against guys that are 7-foot, 6-10, and everybody’s looking at them, but when you look at the hard work and dedication that you’re putting in, you just have to work that much harder. Guys that aren’t working that much harder, but are taller, you can see it because of your play. Honestly, people say, ‘Do you wish you could be taller?’ But I don’t, I’m glad that I’ve been blessed with [this gift], because without it, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.”
This year, the Terriers have a chance to make history. In its history, St. Francis has never made the NCAA Tournament. Their last chance was four seasons ago, when they went 23-12, and lost in the NEC Tournament to Robert Morris and then had to settle for an NIT appearance. But with this year’s team, hope is definitely alive for a chance to make the Big Dance, which has eluded them for so long.
“We’re looking to win this NEC chip, I believe in that, 100%.” said Jordan.
With both Jordan and Hawkins in the backcourt, it’s a chance that the school in Brooklyn Heights, there’s definitely a chance that the dream can become a reality. But only time and hard work from the Terriers as a team will fulfill this prophecy.