As Tianna Hawkins asserts herself in the post for the undefeated Maryland women's basketball team, averaging a double-double through 11 games, she is creating an interesting question about her future path. Can she follow Crystal Langhorne? Or Clarice Starling?
How about both?
Langhorne was an All-American, helping Maryland to the NCAA title in 2006 before eventually moving on to the WNBA. Hawkins, a junior, hopes to make the fifth-ranked Terrapins (11-0) an NCAA title contender again this season on her way to perhaps becoming a pro in the WNBA or overseas someday.
That is, if she doesn't become an FBI or Secret Service agent instead. Think Starling, Jodie Foster's iconic FBI trainee character in "Silence of the Lambs." Don't laugh, Hawkins is serious about it. She's a criminal justice major and her favorite class is forensic science -- crime scenes and dead bodies.
"I'm actually interested in that type of stuff," Hawkins said.
Interested enough to spend last summer as an intern with the Secret Service. No, she wasn't called upon to be a bodyguard for President Obama, but she did get to see a few sights along the way, from a visit to a former Air Force One to an impressive display of 1,000 firearms in the training center. Hawkins could appreciate that because she has been around guns for much of her life. Her grandfather, James Hawkins, was a police officer and U.S. Marshal. It was James who taught Tianna how to shoot and inspired her to consider a career as a federal agent.
"We were raised in a law-enforcement type of environment," said her mother, Latanya Hawkins. "She was always around that. She was always fascinated with guns, going to the range, all of the different duties of a police officer. All the different stories, police stories. Her favorite show was 'COPS.' She's always been fascinated with that."
She had one little problem to get past, though. Tianna Hawkins was not fascinated with death.
"It's kind of weird because when I was younger, I was actually afraid of dead people," she said. "I hate to see people die, so I'd get really emotional. But I guess watching and learning more about it and learning that it's natural and everybody experiences it, I have a better understanding of what goes on when someone dies, and I think that's where I found the interest."
Hawkins isn't sure what agency she eventually will pursue; she's currently looking into another internship for next summer. But she hasn't ruled out the Secret Service. After all, it could be a good fit. As Maryland coach Brenda Frese pointed out, "She would have anyone's back. That's the kind of teammate she is."
Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 post player, has not been a dominant player like Langhorne. But Hawkins has made an impact ever since arriving at Maryland 2½ years ago. She started nine of 34 games as a freshman, averaging 9.2 points and 7.5 rebounds. Those numbers dipped to 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds while she started 18 of 32 games last season. So far this season, Hawkins has started every game on a deep team led by forward Alyssa Thomas and guard Laurin Mincy, and is averaging 11.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.
"Hawkins, to me, has been as key as any player on that team," WNBA guard and women's basketball analyst Kara Lawson said. "That's the reason why they're undefeated. She leads the way in rebounding. They're the best rebounding team in the country in terms of rebounding margin, and she's just really improved her all-around offensive game.
"She has a lot of different ways she can impact the game."
That includes her ability to run the court. Frese credits Hawkins' weight loss for the increased production. Hawkins, who weighed 200-plus pounds when she arrived at Maryland, has dropped more than 20 pounds and 9 percent body fat.
"She's having a sensational junior campaign -- and just a pleasant, a great surprise for us and big difference for our team and our program this year is her play," Frese said. "She's in the best shape of her life.
"She's like a fine-tuned athlete. She's just long and lean and runs the floor in our transition game, is one of the first ones always out beating post players down the court, and then just loves to bang, loves to rebound and get after it, loves being physical with the contact."
She doesn't care who she's pushing around, either. Hawkins renewed a sibling rivalry with her twin sister, Tierra, when Maryland hosted Delaware State on Dec. 8. The Terrapins showed no mercy, winning 108-33. Tianna Hawkins had 13 points and nine rebounds. Tierra finished with seven points and six rebounds, although she was 3-of-17 from the field, often going up against her sister. Asked if she felt badly about the beating, Tianna was torn.
"Yes, because of my sister," she said. "No, just because I'm competitive and I'm happy that my team was able to go out and play and get the win."
More significantly, Hawkins had 17 points, 14 rebounds and four assists in a 72-53 victory against then-No. 11 Georgetown in November, the team that ousted Maryland from the NCAA tournament in the second round last season. It is the only measure of Maryland's championship mettle so far. But it remains to be seen if she can continue to produce those numbers nightly when the Terrapins begin play in the ultracompetitive Atlantic Coast Conference, which features No. 7 Miami, No. 9 Duke and No. 16 North Carolina.
Still, as she improves, Hawkins is beginning to show she can be a pro player someday.
"I think the sky's the limit,'' Frese said of Hawkins' future. "I think if she continues to work, she's going to put a lot of options on the table for herself."
Whether she's shooting at a basket or Buffalo Bill.