Longtime Southern Lab coach Joel Hawkins, Louisiana’s winningest boys basketball coach, dies at age 77 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- From left, Southern Lab coach Devan Clark, former Lab coach Joel Hawkins and Madison Prep coach Jeffrey Jones pose during the Hawkins Classic in in January at Southern University's F.G. Clark Activity Center .

The emotion and loss Devan Clark felt was obvious.

The Southern Lab boys basketball coach steadied his voice as he talked about his mentor, legendary Southern Lab coach Joel Hawkins, who died Tuesday at his home in Killeen, Texas.

“I was with him as a player from the time I was in the sixth grade and then I was an assistant to him for four years,” Clark said. “We were side-by-side for 12 years and I learned so much … we all did.

“It was never just about basketball; he taught us about life. I’ve carried those things with me and will continue to do so. He was so much more than a coach.”

Hawkins was 77. Arrangements are pending. He leaves behind legacy that has lasted beyond the 21 years he coached at Southern Lab. Hawkins had a career record of 1,071-263 and is Louisiana’s winningest boys basketball coach.

During a career that spanned 43 years, Hawkins won 12 state titles, 11 at Southern Lab and one at Lake Providence High.

Hawkins started his career at his alma mater, Lake Providence’s G.W. Griffith, in 1965 and went on to coach at Lake Providence High until 1987. He won a Class 2A state title at Lake Providence in 1985 and went on to win 11 Class 1A titles in a 13-year span at Southern Lab.

In addition to having 39 winning seasons and 21 district titles, Hawkins sent numerous players to the college ranks. Kirk King, a Connecticut standout, and future LSU football star Marcus Spears were among the all-state players he coached.

Clark visited Hawkins last weekend and Spears said he spoke with his former coach late last week. The news of Hawkins’ death came as a shock to many.

“Oh my goodness,” Glen Oaks coach Harvey Adger said. “What a loss for his family, the schools where he coached and basketball. I remember the battles we had very well back in the 1990s.

“He said he’d play us anywhere any time, even on blacktop. I’d tell him to name the place and we’d laugh. His team were always so disciplined and so well-coached. He was a mentor to me and lot of other coaches.”

Live Oak coach Gary Duhe, who coached against Hawkins in the 1980s when he was at Chapel Trafton, lauded Hawkins’ “old school” approach.

“I think the things he would want to be remembered for are this — they weren’t flashy and what they did, they did well. His teams always played great team defense; they were solid offense; they were hard-nosed and they played as a team.”

Adger’s Glen Oaks team and Southern Lab were leaders of the Baton Rouge pack in the 1990s, helping the LHSAA set attendance records at its Top 28 tournament held then at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

SLHS started its string of titles in 1993. That success led to Hawkins’ induction into the Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. The Louisiana Association of Basketball Coaches honored him as Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball in 2005.

“Coach Hawkins made an indelible mark with his coaching accomplishments but no doubt his greatest impact was in the lives of young people and colleagues he influenced,” Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Chairman Doug Ireland said. “He was the 11th high school coach, and only the third high school basketball coach, enshrined in the Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 2007.

“I remember how pleased he was to share his induction with his players and coaching colleagues, family and friends. It was always fun when he returned for Induction Celebrations since his enshrinement. He felt he was representing everybody he had been involved with along the way.”

Hawkins was in Baton Rouge in early January when Clark and Southern Lab hosted the first Joel Hawkins Classic basketball tournament at Southern University’s F.G. Clark Center. Hawkins was honored that night, providing another memory Clark said he would cherish.

Spears pondered his memories, too, after learning of Hawkins’ death.

“I ran into a former teammate, Marcus Singleton, in the airport and he told me coach wasn’t doing well and I’m glad I called,” Spears said. “We got to talk. He told me he loved me and how proud of me he was.

“Most people don’t know this, but coach Hawkins was the reason I wanted to go to Southern Lab. My Dad went to Southern Lab and when he took me by the school, I met coach Hawkins. I knew then this was the man I wanted to play for.

“He taught us about responsibility, about how to men and how to handle ourselves on the court and in life. He told us to respect every opponent and fear none.”