You never know what a summer job will lead to. In the summer of 1986, Hersey Hawkins, a quiet, genial basketball star at Bradley University, hired on as a clerk for a Peoria, Ill., law firm. Before the next basketball season was over, he found himself in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals as the plaintiff in a federal case against the NCAA. "A lot of people were surprised it was me," says Hawkins. "Even my family was surprised."
Hawkins believed that the sanctions imposed on his Bradley team—specifically, last season's ban on postseason competition—were unfair because the violations in question had occurred under former coach Dick Versace while Hawkins and his teammates were still in high school.
Sniffing injustice, his employer, lawyer Jim Rochford, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Peoria, arguing that the ban on postseason play penalized innocent parties and jeopardized Hawkins's potential value in the 1988 NBA draft.
Because the NCAA had already won several cases of this type, the legal precedents were not good. As it turned out, the off guard with the 42-inch vertical leap probably hurt his own case by averaging 27.2 points a game and impressing NBA scouts anyway. "I honestly believe he'll be a lottery pick, someone in the top nine," says Bradley coach Stan Albeck. "He's an absolute natural."
As a 6'3" center at Chicago's Westinghouse High, Hawkins wasn't heavily recruited. "I think the colleges were lazy and didn't do their homework," Westinghouse's coach, Frank Lollino, told a Chicago newspaper last year. "He's as good as any second guard in the NBA right now."
In federal court, Hawkins's due-process arguments banged up against the NCAA's state-action precedents, and the judge ruled for the NCAA. When the Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't hear the case before the NCAAs last spring, Hawkins' suit became moot.
Last summer Hawkins once again clerked for Rochford & Associates, batting almost .900 for the office softball team. His future will probably include the NBA. He also has the grades for law school, if he is so inclined. As for the past, he looks at his legal defeat philosophically. "I didn't really think we had a good chance of winning, but I think I made the right choice trying it."