Ryan Hawkins

(Atlantic) -- Following a phenomenal career at the Division II level, Atlantic alum Ryan Hawkins decided to chase a lifelong dream.

The pursuit of that dream led him to Omaha, where he will play basketball for Creighton next year. 

"It means the world to me," Hawkins said. "I had five of the best years of my life at Northwest, both on and off the court. But now I'm making a selfish decision to live out a childhood dream and play at the highest level of basketball."

Hawkins had a stellar five-year run at Northwest Missouri State, where he won three national championships, averaged 16 points per game and shot 52.8 percent from the field in 100 starts for Coach Ben McCollum's Bearcats.

While Division I opportunities awaited, Hawkins says leaving Maryville was not an easy choice.

"It's a big blessing that this is the hardest decision of my life," he said. "When a kid gets stressed about what schools to play for, you've lived a very blessed life. It was a hard decision. Maryville has been my home and always will be, but now it's about experiencing the next level."

Division II standouts leaping to Division I has become common recently. Northern State star Parker Fox recently transferred to Minnesota and Cam Martin -- who Hawkins had many battles with at Missouri Southern -- committed to Kansas.

"I've realized for a few years now, but I was so in love with Northwest and everything we were able to do there." Hawkins said about his D1 aspirations. "Ten years from now, I was going to regret not taking this opportunity that so many kids dream of."

The 6-foot-7 Hawkins became a hot commodity on the Division I market when he entered the transfer portal on April 26th with Creighton, Kansas and Villanova vying for his services.

"My phone kept ringing," he joked. "It's a good problem to have, but this whole week has been a blur."

Many programs were interested, but Hawkins says it was always going to be Creighton because the Bluejays checked all the boxes."

"They have such a great program and are so close to home," he said. "Every kid's dream is to have family and friends an hour away. It was hard to pass that up. There was interest, but I don't know if I really considered anywhere else."

The Bluejays' scheme appealed to Hawkins, too.

"I feel like the way they spread the floor will help me because I like to shoot," he said. "I also think I can bring a new leadership role since I'm older than most of the guys."

The Bluejays were a Sweet 16 qualifier last year, but departures have depleted their lineup with contributors such as Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock departing. Whatever Hawkins' final college basketball season brings, he hopes to soak in experiences like playing in Hinkle Fieldhouse and the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

"If you've watched Hoosiers as a kid, you dream of walking into Hinkle," he said. "It will bring more excitement to the game I already love. I hope to grow as a person and a player. It will provide a lot of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities."

Maryville might be in his rearview mirror, but Hawkins says he will always cherish the memories he had during his tenure with the Bearcats.

"The part nobody gets to see is how much fun we had," he said. "You win games, but that's not what you remember. The camaraderie I had with the guys is what will stick with me forever."

Hawkins made his comments on Tuesday's Upon Further Review. Click below to hear the full interview.

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