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Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

James Hawk with youth basketball players from West Scranton before a game..

When his collegiate basketball career ended at Misericordia University last year, James Hawk most likely thought that his days of playing hoops at high level were over.

He stayed close to the game, playing league ball at the YMCA in Pittston, a route that many former athletes take after their college or high school days.

But a phone call from his former college coach, Misericordia’s Willie Chandler, changed all that.

The Tunkhannock Area grad had the opportunity to take his talents to the professional ranks.

In February, Hawk joined the Scranton Shamrocks, which made their debut in the American Basketball Association, pegged as “America’s largest professional sports league,” the month before.

“My college coach called me and asked if I wanted to play on a semi-pro team, and I was looking for a part-time job on weekends, so playing for the Shamrocks made so much sense,” Hawk said. “I met the coach and met the rest of the team and it kicked off from there. I clicked pretty well with my teammates and went to my first game with two of the more leaders on the team. That really helped me, and their system is similar to what I ran throughout my whole high school career, so I caught on pretty quick.”

The Scranton Shamrock franchise, which is wrapping up an exhibition schedule from this winter on Friday, is owned by John Bucci, former Bishop Hannan High School head coach and owner of Backcourt Hoops, and will be a full-time member of the ABA beginning with the 2018-19 season.

Kevin Clark, director of Basketball University at Backcourt Hoops, is the team’s head coach and general manager.

The former standout at Dunmore, who earned a scholarship after being a walk-on at St. John’s University, spent two seasons as head coach at Lackawana College.

The ABA season runs from November through April and teams are community driven.

For the 6-foot-10 Hawk, it was a chance to continue his basketball career, though it took some time to get used to the rules of the ABA — along with the level of competition that came with it.

“I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit out of shape,” Hawk said with a laugh. “The competition is a lot stronger, they’re men out there, not young men. They’re experienced and some of the best out of their college, so it’s just like it was in taking the step from high school to college, just another stepping stone to get used to. The ABA rules are a little weird, so it was a little odd at first but I’m getting used to it all.”

Indeed, the ABA has unique rules that promote a faster pace and lead to higher scoring.

One of the differences is the presence of a 3D light that turns on during breakaway turnovers.

When the 3D Light is on a regular basket counts for three points, a 3-point shot increases in value to four points, and a half-court shot is five points.

The Shamrocks practice once a week, usually on a Friday before a Saturday or Sunday game.

Along with that, Hawk is once again able to play close to home, since the Shamrocks host their games at Johnson College in Scranton.

“It’s been a great experience,” Hawk said. “My mom and my sister and two nephews were able to come out to my first home game, so it was great getting to see them come back out since they always went to every college and high school home game. The support from them and the community has been great. I don’t really use social media, but posted about joining the team and had a ton of comments from people congratulating me. I’ve never had feedback like that.”

For his senior season with the Cougars, Hawk averaged 6.5 points-per-game, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over an average of 15.8 minutes in 26 games played.

Hawk graduated with the university’s all-time record for career field goal percentage (58.8) and blocks (161); was first, second and fourth in blocks for a single season with 61 in 2014-15, 59 in 2015-16 and 41 in 2016-17; and was second and sixth for field goal percentage in one season at 61.9 percent in 2016-17 and 59.2 percent in 2015-16.

He also holds the record for most blocked shots in a single game with 10 against King’s College on Feb. 13, 2016.

Aside from playing for the Shamrock, the 24-year-old Hawk works as a personal trainer at Planet Fitness to gain experience toward his passion and goal of one day opening up a gym to help athletes prepare for college.

“I want to start by helping basketball players and then all types of athletes and teach them about what they need to know for that,” Hawk said. “I never had that transition going into college athletics and would like to improve their strength and conditioning in getting there. What I’m doing now has been great and seeing a variety of people has helped. The athletic side of training is where my heart is.”

Through six exhibition games, the Shamrocks are 4-2, including a 120-112 victory over the Binghamton Bulldogs, the No. 4 ABA team in the country, on Feb. 26.

According to a post on the Scranton Shamrocks Facebook page, the team is shooting 49.6 percent from the field, 40.3 percent from behind the arc, 75.9 percent from the foul line and dishing out 27.9 assists compared to 16.8 turnovers.

The Shamrocks are also averaging 139 points-per -game through those six contests.

On Friday, the Shamrocks will wrap up their exhibition season by hosting the Pottstown Flames at Johnson College, starting at 7:30 p.m.

The inaguaral season for the team will kick off this fall.

Times-Shamrock sports write Joby Fawcett also contributed to this story.

The ABA is a relaunch of the organization more famously known for its competition against the NBA in the mid-70s. It’s most famous alumni is Julius “Dr. J.” Erving.

The league was “reformed in 2000 in partnership with the NBA and has been operating in harmony for the past 16 years,” according to its website, abaliveaction.com.

“The goal of growing the ABA into a league the size of the NCAA seems to be working,” Joe Newman, ABA co-founder, said in a release. “We’ve certainly found the formula for growth which includes the best business model in professional sports, ease of ownership and of course, our diversity of ownership. The Scranton Shamrocks are a wonderful addition.”

Times-Shamrock sports write Joby Fawcett also contributed to this story.