While most families will spend Christmas morning discussing presents under the tree and what foods will be filling their bellies as sugar plums dance in their heads, one Newton family’s focus may be turned more toward the hardwood than sleigh bells.
Jamon, Taylor and Geri Hawkins will spend the holiday season catching up on the family’s efforts on the basketball court. A family that plays together, stays together, and the Hawkinses have found a common bond through the sport.
The family’s basketball tradition began with Geri and her playing days at Georgia Southwestern and State University, but her sons, Jamon, who recently graduated from Georgia Southwestern, and Taylor, a senior at Newton High, have carried on the legacy their mother began almost 30 years ago.
If you talked about basketball with Geri, the focus quickly turns away from her past and toward her two sons.
The Livingston Elementary assistant principal has a story of her own to tell on the court, however, a story that begans at Newton High School. Geri had a standout career with the Lady Rams, one that led her to Georgia Southwestern, where she played point guard for the Hurricanes from 1980-84.
Geri eventually graduated from Georgia Southwestern with her bachelor’s degree in recreation and a Master's ineducation, before taking on the head girls varsity basketball coaching job with the Lady Rams in the early '90s.
During that time, Geri raised Jamon and Taylor, who would also leave their mark on the Rams’ basketball program over a decade after their mother coached at Newton.
“I think on the court, a lot of their tenacity comes from me,” Geri said. “I have a lot of spirit and that’s something my parents have always said about me – I’m a go-getter. I was able to give them some coaching experience and I saw the growth in their game.
“Jamon was singled out as the kid who was ‘harassing’ other players on the court – you know, relentless – but it helped him develop into the player that he is,” she said. “The work ethic that the family instilled in both Jamon and Taylor has paid off.”
Geri’s devotion to her sons, and her basketball background, did pay off, as Jamon earned a spot on the Rams’ varsity basketball team during his freshman season, a feat replicated by his brother Taylor five years later.
Today, Taylor is in his senior year with the Rams, leading Newton to rivalry wins over Eastside and Alcovy, while Jamon has the Hurricanes ranked in the Division II Top-25 poll.
The friendly competition between brothers has made both players improve, but both have found a niche with their teams, and have excelled with their respective programs this winter.
“There has been a competitive spirit between the two since the time Taylor was old enough to walk and have some sort of ball in his hand,” Geri said. “Jamon was also there nudging him and pushing Taylor. When they could finally compete on a balanced playing field, they continued to push each other, and Jamon has grown into a mentor for Taylor. They talk about more than just basketball – about life and academics, as well.”
For Jamon, his basketball career at Georgia Southwestern started off slowly.
The incoming freshman was redshirted his first season. The year gave him a chance to reflect on his game and gain both physical and mental strength, something the Hurricanes’ senior has learned to appreciate as his game developed throughout his career.
“My career has been one filled with a lot of hard work,” Jamon said. “I took my first year to get better and to get stronger. I came in pretty skinny and I needed to add some muscle. My freshman and sophomore years, I was behind a pretty established point guard in Evan Mobley and I picked up from his game. He took me under his wing and showed me how to run the system.”
Newton coach Rick Rasmussen said moving from the high school ranks to college wasn't easy for Jamon, but his struggles were at times necessary for the guard to improve his game.
“His transition to Georgia Southwestern was one that wasn’t easy,” Rasmussen said. “He redshirted his freshman year and put in all the hard work to get better. It really wasn’t until his junior year that everyone started to realize that he could shoot. It was neat to see Georgia Southwestern go through the process of trusting him and giving him the green light to shoot it. Since then, he started filling the score sheet up.
“(Taylor has) always had a great attitude, and he’s all business on the court,” he said. “From the time he wore a coat and tie as a freshman, he knew that basketball was more than a game, it was a business. A basketball scholarship was a way to an education, and he doesn’t take that lightly. He’s certainly earned it.”
Jamon bided his time until the end of his sophomore year, when the combo guard was granted extra playing time due to some unforeseen circumstances.
“At the end of his sophomore year, he really turned it on,” Georgia Southwestern coach Mike Leeder said. “We had one player go down with injury and another that was dismissed from the team, so Jamon got more playing time than he had ever had. His last 10 games he finished really strong. He had a great summer, and in his junior year he became a consistent, double-figure scorer. He’s a great passer, a great ball handler and a great teammate.”
Jamon thrived in his scoring role, leading the Hurricanes in scoring at 13.7 points a game last year.
The former Ram didn’t take his opportunity for granted, however, continuing to work on his game despite his success.
“Over the last two years, I just did what I had to do to help our team be successful,” he said. “I stayed focused, stayed true to my game and did what I had to do in the classroom to succeed.”
This season, Jamon has had to take less of a scoring burden for the Hurricanes, and Leeder said his senior guard is doing all the things a fifth-year player should to help Georgia Southwestern excel on the court.
“He’s a reliable guard – I bet he hasn’t missed more than three practices in five years,” Leeder said. “He has a very good feel for the game and he was very well-coached in high school. He’s not deficient in any area of the game. He’s a solid, all-around good guard.”
Footsteps to follow
A season after Jamon graduated from the Rams’ program, another Hawkins was waiting in the wings.
Taylor joined the Newton varsity basketball program as a freshman, much like his brother, but the similarities end there.
“Taylor has taken a different path than Jamon,” Rasmussen said. “He decided to dedicate time to both football and basketball, and he’s really done a good job at it. It’s hard to do and it takes a committed person. During his summer, he was fully committed to both sports and worked on his game for both sports.
“He’s playing really well right now and he’s got all the support in the world from us,” he said. “He’s real physical and tough. Jamon is the better shooter, and Taylor is a better slasher and more physical. He had to be more physical to play with Jamon.”
Taylor has made a name for himself on the gridiron, earning second team all-region honors this past season, but said his brother’s journey through the Rams’ program helped him decide to continue the tradition on the hardwood.
“Ever since we were little, he always motivated me and guided me toward my interest in sports,” Taylor said. “He’s helped me when I was down, and he’s there to celebrate when I’m up. He’s been there for me through everything.
“We both worked hard to get to the varsity level,” he said. “He always told me to play hard and to play smart. I took that into consideration and carried it onto the court. He taught me a lot about Newton basketball before I ever got here. He’s my motivation.”
This season, Taylor has thrived on the court, and has been selected as the Rams’ Player of the Game twice this season against Cedar Shoals and Eastside.
Like his brother, Taylor’s game has grown, in part due to Jamon’s success.
“Every time I see him play I always take what I’ve seen from him and try to add it to my game,” Taylor said. “I always pick his brain and try to see as many games as I can of his to add to my playing style. I’ve always wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps, but as I’ve gotten older, I wanted to make my own path and be even better than him.”
While Jamon and Taylor are at different points in their basketball playing careers, their basketball bond began long before suiting up for the Rams.
“Mom had a real big effect on Taylor and me playing basketball,” Jamon said. “People at Georgia Southwestern tell me that I play just like her. I know I got my shot from her. I mimic her game a lot, and she’s been a great influence on us.”
Geri said the brothers’ playing careers got off to a shaky start with one another early on.
“In the fifth grade, Taylor broke his collarbone playing rough with Jamon,” she said. “It’s one of those brother things. Taylor had to be tough and playing football has helped him there. Being physical wasn’t a problem for him.
He was always willing to get in there and mix it up. He didn’t mind banging in the middle. Jamon had the finesse, Taylor had the brawn.”
Today, the two relish the opportunity to get to see each other play and share their experiences.
“The last time I got to watch him play was about two years ago when I came home for Christmas break,”
Jamon said. “I’m hoping to catch another game while I’m home for Christmas this year. We both had interesting careers starting off as freshmen in the program. Not a lot of kids get to do that, and we’ve both experienced it at Newton. I’ve tried to pass some things down to him – like my shot, but we do whatever we can to help each other.”
Rasmussen said he believes Jamon has been a steady influence for Taylor, but continues to keep his little brother on his toes.
"I think he’s been a really good big brother,” Ramussen said. “He never lets Taylor have anything for free or have it easy. When we went to the game the other night, we were talking about Taylor having 22 points against Eastside. Even though he had a good game, Jamon still let him know who was in charge and that he was the big brother. They’re great together.”
Jamon and Taylor both said their tenure with the Rams has taught them a lot, not only about basketball, but about life off the court.
“The biggest thing I took from Coach Ras is that your character is shown during times of adversity,” Jamon said.
“How you respond when things aren’t going your way shows your true character."
With his family in tow, Jamon celebrated one of college’s most important milestones on Dec. 14 – graduation.
The Hurricane completed his undergraduate academic career with a bachelor’s degree in human resource management.
Gerri couldn’t be prouder.
“It was a surreal experience,” Geri said. “Knowing the trials that he has gone through in his four and a half years and him persevering through all of those things – it was surreal. He’s grown into a wonderful man. It fulfills everything (I've) done as a parent.”
Leeder was also excited for his standout guard, as he wraps up his career with Georgia Southwestern this spring.
“When kids come into the program, you hope that they’re able to earn their degree, but you never know,” Leeder said. “I was extremely proud of him for achieving that.”
Jamon wrapped up his graduation day with a 62-56 road victory over Clayton State, finishing with nine points, eight assists and no turnovers in the win.
Taylor, Geri and Ramussen were in attendance to see the win after watching Jamon walk across the stage to receiver his diploma just hours before.
“It was great having them all there,” Jamon said. “A lot of times my family doesn’t get a chance to make it to games because of Taylor’s schedule, so it felt good to have them there with me.”
The moment was especially fulfilling for Rasmussen, who watched his first freshman player finish a hallmark moment of his playing career.
“Seeing him graduate Saturday was really special for me because he was the first player that played for me all four years to play college ball and graduate,” Ramussen said. “It’s been amazing to see Jamon grow into a great young man, and we are really proud of him.”
With just a few games left in Jamon’s college career, and in Taylor’s high school passage, Geri knows that the lessons her sons instill in each other now will forever mold their future.
“I hope that they have learned from each other the importance of being true to themselves,” Gerri said. “God and family come first, and their teammates and community members are vital as well. It takes a village to raise a family, and I don’t ever want them to forget from where they’ve come.”