Kansas State Landing Coleman Hawkins in Major NIL Deal Could Shape Future Transfer Portal Market

The Wildcats also welcomed transfers Ugonna Onyenso and Achor Achor this offseason with the three players totaling in the $4 million-plus range.
Hawkins will be one of the highest-paid players in men’s college basketball next season.
Hawkins will be one of the highest-paid players in men’s college basketball next season. / Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Modern roster management in college basketball can look something like a poker game. 

In that analogy, Jerome Tang and the Kansas State Wildcats just pushed all their chips in. 

The Wildcats capped a massive roster makeover Friday by landing one of the best (and most expensive) players in the transfer portal in Illinois Fighting Illini transfer Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins, who averaged 12 points and six rebounds per game on an Illinois team that reached the Elite Eight in 2023–24, is expected to be paid $2 million through NIL, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. That makes Hawkins one of the highest-paid players, if not the top, in the country next season, rounding out a K-State roster believed to be among the most expensive in the sport.

Hawkins’s deal headlines a transfer portal spending spree that also features two more highly coveted frontcourt players in the Kentucky Wildcats’ Ugonna Onyenso and Samford Bulldogs’ Achor Achor, not to mention guards Dug McDaniel (Michigan Wolverines) and Brendan Hausen (Villanova Wildcats), among others. Onyenso, Achor and Hawkins were all later additions to the portal, and as frontcourt players saw massive NIL markets shape up for their services. Reeling in all three took a massive financial commitment that rivaled the cost of many entire high-major rosters, believed by multiple industry sources to be in the $4 million-plus range just for those three players alone. 

The question: Will this near-unprecedented gold rush executed by Tang & Co. be enough to elevate Kansas State into the upper echelon of the loaded Big 12? The Wildcats will have to contend with the likes of the Kansas Jayhawks, a consensus preseason top-three team, as well as other loaded rosters at Baylor, Iowa State, Arizona and Houston, all of whom return key cogs from teams that earned high seeds in the men’s NCAA tournament a year ago. The track record is there for Tang, who took Kansas State to the Elite Eight in his first season on the job in 2022–23 before falling short of expectations and missing the tournament altogether in 2023–24. This massive commitment, which sources have indicated was fueled in part by the leverage Tang had after spurning interest from the Arkansas Razorbacks during a wild coaching carousel, raises expectations for the Wildcats to be part of the Big 12’s elite. 

From a roster construction standpoint, the biggest on-court challenge will be meshing the unique skill sets of that aforementioned frontcourt trio. Could Hawkins, who spent more time than not as a small-ball center at Illinois, be slid down all the way to the small forward position to accommodate Achor, Onyenso and returner David N’Guessan? That could create an imposing defensive frontcourt with Hawkins, Achor and Onyenso all above-average shot blockers at their position, but might create some ballhandling concerns. 

Much also relies on the growth of McDaniel, who had an up-and-down season after being given the keys to the Michigan offense in 2023–24. He started his season with a bang, averaging 20 points and five assists per game in the season’s first eight games before struggling in the Big Ten portion of Michigan’s schedule. He was suspended for six road games in league play and seemed checked out of some of the games he did play in. Tang has had plenty of success with small guards, riding the remarkable play of Markquis Nowell to a shocking season in 2023–24 and getting plenty of mileage out of Tylor Perry a year ago. Tapping into McDaniel’s upside will be a huge factor in whether this Kansas State team lives up to the hype. 

This all-in approach is not without risk. Keeping a constant stream of cash flowing into the program requires, in most cases, results that match. Missing the NCAA tournament for a second straight season after these massive commitments would be disastrous for Tang and Kansas State. But the alternative of going into a season without enough talent to contend with the best teams in the best conference in college basketball isn’t exactly tenable either. 

The Hawkins addition solidifies Kansas State as one of the most interesting teams in college basketball. Whether the Wildcats’ big bet pays off might have a hand in shaping the transfer portal market for years to come.


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Kevin Sweeney

KEVIN SWEENEY

Kevin Sweeney is a staff writer at Sports Illustrated covering college basketball and the NBA draft. He joined the SI staff in July 2021 and also serves host and analyst for The Field of 68. Sweeney is a Naismith Trophy voter and ia member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.