FORT SMITH, Ark. – He had to go away for awhile, but Festus Hawkins always knew the road would lead back to Green Street.
"Why Illinois? Why do you even have to ask 'why Illinois?' Illinois is my home," the once and future Illini said Monday.
Hawkins, who's actually from Pine Bluff, Ark., announced to the college basketball world on Monday what he'd been keeping to himself for the last 10 months, ever since being declared ineligible by the NCAA Clearinghouse.
"Ever since I left, I knew I was coming back to Illinois," he said. "I'm a true Illini."
If he graduates from Westark (Ark.) Community College in May with the 51 transferable hours he needs – "I will," he said – the 6-foot-9, 300-pound center will join Lon Kruger's club next fall.
Hawkins plans to sign a second UI letter of intent during the NCAA's fall period, which runs Nov. 12-19.
The first time he signed one, in November 1995, Lou Henson was boss.
Illinois, still awaiting official campus visits from Peoria Manual's Frank Williams (this weekend) and Oak Park Fenwick's Corey Maggette (Oct. 24-25), has seven scholarships to give. Six, if Hawkins keeps his promise.
He also was recruited by Minnesota and Wyoming and almost took an official visit last weekend to Houston.
"It really wasn't hard to make a decision," he said.
Hawkins arrived at Westark last January, shortly after the NCAA refused his appeal of one of his 13 required core courses. That made him a nonqualifier, meaning he owed the UI over $7,000 for out-of-state tuition and fees for the first semester.
"That will be taken care of in due time," Hawkins said, declining to elaborate.
Hawkins will play for Westark this winter and have three years of Division I eligibility remaining.