Drake recruit Ava Hawthorne, a movie star, seeks a Hollywood ending for her final act at Gilbert

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Ava Hawthorne is driven to make the most of her final year playing girls' basketball for Gilbert. The Drake signee saw her junior season end prematurely due to wrist and elbow injuries, so she has some unfinished business to take care of in 2021-2022.

On Feb. 9 2020, Gilbert guard Ava Hawthorne was driving toward the hoop in a road game at Boone when she drew contact with Toreador guard Emma Dighton. 

Dighton was trying to draw a charge and Hawthorne went right into her. As Dighton was knocked back, she began to fall. 

Hawthorne tried to brace herself on the fall and landed on her outstretched arms. She got up, checked out and went right back into the game.

But it didn't take long for the Drake signee to realize something was wrong.

"I didn’t think that I did anything at the time, so I went back into the game for five more minutes," Hawthorne said. "At that point I couldn’t even catch a ball or dribble it or hold it. I knew something was wrong, so I looked at coach and said 'Hey, you need to pull me out.'"

Hawthorne had suffered a broken wrist on her right arm and a broken elbow on her left. 

A promising run for Gilbert ended essentially when Hawthorne crashed to the ground. 

Previously:Hawthorne picks Drake: Gilbert senior signs to play women's basketball for the Bulldogs

Even though the Tigers still had a talented senior class led by Emma Bulman, Katie Currans, Thea Rotto and Nessa Johnson, the loss of Hawthorne was just too much to overcome. Gilbert fell short of reaching the state tournament for the second year in a row, losing to Grinnell in the Class 4A regional finals.

“I was down,” Hawthorne said. “It was a bummer. I wasn’t there to help my team.” 

But she wasn't down for long.

Shortly after her injury Hawthorne got to celebrate the premier of her new movie "New Providence" — an independent film that tells a fictional account of the final year of six-on-six girls’ basketball in Iowa. Hawthorne had a starring role in the film as New Providence star player Lainey Mitchell.

New Providence

When spring arrived Hawthorne was able to run track in a cast. Thanks to physical therapy and hard work she had healed enough by the end of spring to play three months of club ball for All-Iowa Attack.

Hawthorne continued to lift and do basketball workouts during the fall. On Nov. 10, she officially signed with Drake.

“It was a relief, but there was also a ‘Crap, I’m not ready for college ball yet,’ feeling,” Hawthorne said. “I took it upon myself to prepare for Drake and better myself to make the Bulldogs a better team when I join them.”

More:Gilbert all-state performer Ava Hawthorne makes big-screen debut in 'New Providence,' in theaters now

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Now she's getting ready to begin her senior season at Gilbert. 

“I’m excited and ready to go,” Hawthorne said. “Every practice is a practice closer to a game.” 

The 2021-2022 season will bring a new challenge for Hawthorne.

The talented point guard is used to being surrounded by great talent. She played with elite players from across the state with All-Iowa Attack and came up behind last year's tremendous senior class at Gilbert.

Now she must take a much more inexperienced group of players under her wing and help mold them into a team capable of competing at a high level.

“Ava is going to lead this group," Gilbert head coach Mike Frisk said. "We’re fortunate to have her. She brings so much to the table.” 

Frisk admires how much passion for the game Hawthorne brings to his team.

“Each year she’s brought something new to the table,” Frisk said. “This year, I’ve noticed she’s got a step-back 3 that she’s put into the game. She’s always learning.” 

Frisk notes how unselfish Hawthorne has been over the years as the team's point guard. He wants her to call her own number a little bit more this year.

“She’s ready for those type of challenges,” Frisk said. “She’s a great student and even better person than player...and a movie star!” 

Hawthorne is looking forward to helping bring her younger teammates along.

“It's going to be different, but this helps me with my leadership role,” Hawthorne said. “It is a big responsibility, but I think I am the person for it.” 

So far everything has gone well at practices for Hawthorne and the Tigers as they prepare to face Humboldt in their season opener Monday at Humboldt.

“On the court, she’s staying positive and including everyone,” Gilbert junior guard Sydney Lynch said. “Outside of basketball, she’s reaching out and making us feel like one team.” 

Skylar Hillmann has been a classmate of Hawthorne's since she moved to Gilbert from Illinois in eighth grade.

“She was one of the first people who took me under her wing and got me involved in basketball," Hillmann said. "I started doing Attack and saw her there a lot. She’s always been a consistent person for me and a good friend.” 

Hillmann has an outgoing personality that is the perfect complement to Hawthorne's relentless drive. They both have worked hard to make the environment at Gilbert as enjoyable as possible for the younger players.

“We like to see a lot of smiles and have a lot of laughs,” Hillmann said. “We try to keep everyone included and our goal is to be very approachable with the younger girls and make it a really fun environment." 

Hillmann is looking forward to seeing what Hawthorne can accomplish leading the team in their final season together.

“I’m really proud of her,” Hillmann said. “She’s put in a lot of work and definitely deserves what’s coming to her.” 

Hawthorne definitely has a lot coming to her.

Gilbert's Ava Hawthorne has a chance to break several school records, including the career scoring mark, in 2021-2022.

In addition to her team goals of trying to win a loaded Raccoon River Conference and get to state for the second time in three years, Hawthorne has her sights set on several school records and milestones.

  • Entering the season Hawthorne needs just 19 points to reach 1,000 for her career and Gilbert's all-time scoring mark of 1,379 points set by 1997 graduate Tina Zitterich is well within reach. 
  • Hawthorne is just two 3-pointer baskets away from becoming the school's all-time leader in 3-pointers with 132.
  • Hawthorne needs just five assists to break the school's all-time record of 246.
  • She is just 24 steals away from the school's all-time mark of 208.

Hawthorne is already the school record holder for free-throw percentage in a season (84.5%), 3-point percentage in a season (45.1%), 3-pointers made in a season (60), 3-pointers made in a game (seven), steals in a game (nine) and assists in a game (11).

But Hawthorne would trade all of those gaudy records in for one more chance to play at state. Even though there won't be as much expected of Gilbert this year and her basketball future is already set, Hawthorne still is driven to come out on top every time she steps on the court.  

“From an outside perspective I’ve already signed at Drake,” Hawthorne said. “But from an inside perspective I still put pressure on myself. I’m a competitor. …

"I want to win.”