“I’m Not Backing Down from a Challenge”: The Unwavering Consistency of Tianna Hawkins

Win or lose, you’ll find her there. Washington Mystics’ big Tianna Hawkins is going to put in the work, regardless of the final score. Once the cameras have stopped flashing, and long after the post-game pressers have ended, the familiar sound of a basketball bouncing reverberates from the practice court. Hawkins, ever the model of consistency, can routinely be found there after a game, getting in a few more shots at the practice facility attached to Entertainment & Sports Arena.

“Doesn’t matter who’s playing—TT is going to be TT every single game,” fellow big Myisha Hines-Allen said of Hawkins after the July 9 game. “And that’s why we are who we are. That’s why she’s here. First one in the gym, stays after games to shoot, coming in on off-days. She does the stuff that does not show up on the stat sheet that people will not notice or know just because she’s quiet and gets her job done. She does her job, and we love that about her.”

Hawkins doesn’t just put in the work—she is the work, and has been since day one. “The first thing is coming into training camp confident and wanting to get a roster spot,” the nine-year vet told me. “That was my first driving force, and once I made the team, it became a mental game for me, where I compete against myself, where I try to be better than I was yesterday. In doing so, [I’m] making sure I do the little things to make my team successful.”

That has forever been Hawkins’ mantra. Since she arrived to her hometown team (Hawkins was born in Washington DC, went to high school in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and had a college career at the University of Maryland) following a trade with the Seattle Storm in April 2014, Hawkins has epitomized what it means to be a team player. Her contributions go well beyond the box score, even if her stats don’t always jump off the page.

“I don’t have to be a top scorer,” Hawkins posits. “If it’s me running the floor, if it’s me making the extra effort on defense, or setting a good screen to get teammates open, I’m up for it. I’m up for the challenge. In terms of stepping up in the starting position, whatever is on my way, I’m ready.”



The relentless commitment to her game is not lost on her coaches nor her teammates, especially this season, when two of her frontcourt companions, Elena Delle Donne and Shakira Austin, have been out of the starting lineup for stretches due to injury. When things aren’t looking good for the Mystics, it’s usually Hawkins who’s there to right the ship.

“She’s maybe the best at keeping us moving when the offense gets a little bit sticky,” said Mystics head coach Eric Thibault after their game on July 9. “She’ll roll hard to the rim. She’s doing a nice job mixing up her offensive game, being versatile.” 

And versatility is Hawkins’ calling card. She wasn’t a terrific three-point shooter in college, but with her patience and work ethic, and as her WNBA career has gone on, she has developed a perimeter shot. Hawkins has expanded her game, and she’s become an indispensable player for the Mystics. “She can go,” guard Brittney Sykes said. “I don’t mind at all [throwing]that 94-foot pass [in transition]. She puts so much pressure in transition, just moving off the ball. Being as fluid as she is through her footwork. You don’t see a lot of bigs like her who can catch on the go or slip out of screens or hit the three like she does. It’s just an endless amount of potential when it comes to TT on the floor with any of us. It’s so much fun.”

“In our offense,” Thibault added, “outside of our guards, she’s the one making it work. She gets us, we get broken down, she pops back, and she goes and plays the next action with our guard. She has a really good feel about when to pop, when to roll. I think she’s having opportunities to get out in transition. It’s what you love to see about someone who’s been with us a long time. It looks like she’s in full realization of her game.”

Hawkins has done everything Thibault asks of her and more, always ready for whatever comes her way. “I approach the game the same way,” explained Hawkins. “It’s just a conversation that Eric and I have. ‘Hey, we need you to play the three. Hey, we need you to play the five today.’ Whatever is in my way, I just take it on as a challenge. For me, it’s bigger than myself—it’s what I have to do for my team to be successful. Whatever’s in my way, I’m not going to run from it.”

That fearless and confident approach to her game has won the admiration of her teammates. “TT is a vet’s vet,” said guard Ariel Atkins. “In this league, she’s been around some amazing vets. She’s learned from some amazing people, and she’s taken that and brought it here. I’ve played with TT for most of my career, and [whether]playing against her or with her, she’s a workhorse. I would never doubt the consistency when it comes to the work that she puts in. Regardless if she’s dropping 30 [points]that night, two that night, not playing at all—she’s coming in and getting her work done after the game or even the next day. Leading by example.”

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The love her teammates show her isn’t just how she approaches the game for herself; it comes from the love she shares with her teammates. Thibault told me that during training camp, when second-year big Emily Engstler was in camp, Hawkins was there to help support her when she was struggling, even as Hawkins knew she was fighting for a roster spot with Engstler. “The biggest thing is it’s a team sport, no matter if you’re the first person or twelfth person on the roster,” said Hawkins. “When [Engstler] came in, she was new to the system, still on a rookie contract. I saw she was a little confused and took her under my wing, tried to show her my way, tried to give her some tips and pointers. All the stuff to help her be successful. That’s just what it’s about; it’s bigger than myself. Even though I’m competing against my teammates, I can still share the wealth and be a good vet.”

For Hawkins, being a good vet isn’t about doing what’s best for you, but taking on the challenge to help the entire team. It’s about being ready so the team can shine and win.

“Tianna is never afraid of a challenge,” Thibault said. “If you ask the group a question, and it wouldn’t be an obvious answer, she’d be the one to try and answer it. She’s somebody who will take it as it is. It doesn’t faze her. She’s willing to take the challenge; she’s not afraid to look bad. She’s not afraid of making mistakes. She just plays through.”

The unselfish vet is an archetype of any championship-worthy team. The work isn’t about the individual, but about how the individual’s work will benefit the greater good of the team. That’s what Hawkins is and has always been. “That’s just how she carries herself, ” Thibault told me. “She wants the team to be good—she appreciates being here, and we appreciate having her. I think she feels really invested in this group, and she’s had to accept not playing a lot, playing a lot, and being ready for whatever situation comes her way.”

When her team needs her most, Hawkins shows the capacity to step up, scoring in double figures in four of her last six games. Her presence alone, though, doesn’t always tell the story. But if you hang around the arena long enough after a game, when the coveted post-game quiet settles deep in the arena, you’ll find Hawkins. 

“When [my teammates]look at me,” Hawkins said, “I want them to know that [I’m] going to work hard, put in the work, and I’m not backing down from a challenge.”


All stats as of 7/16. Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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