Former Maryland standout Tianna Hawkins, left, battling New York’s Kara Braxton along with Seattle Sotrm teammate Alysha Clark in a game last month, has put her improved conditioning and rebounding prowess to use in her rookie season in the WNBA. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

When Tianna Hawkins arrived at the University of Maryland, making the WNBA wasn’t among her immediate career choices. Not that the All-Met from Riverdale Baptistwould have minded playing basketball professionally, but at the time, the prospects didn’t appear all that realistic given some significant hurdles.

Among the most pressing was transforming her body through a rigorous exercise regimen that at times had the 6-foot-3 forward in tears as a freshman in 2009. Hawkins needed to decide if she was willing to make that sacrifice or pursue another line of work, perhaps as a federal agent. Majoring in criminology and criminal justice, she was drawn in that direction anyway.

These days, Hawkins is in the best shape of her life, and following a college career in which she became the No. 3 rebounder in Terrapins history, her framed jersey hangs in the hallway outside the locker room at Comcast Center.

Her WNBA jersey, that is, after the Seattle Storm made Hawkins the No. 6 overall pick in April’s draft.

“It’s still hard to believe,” Hawkins said in a telephone interview before the Storm departed for a three-game road trip that includes a stop at Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon against the Washington Mystics (5-6). “When I was a freshman and sophomore, I really didn’t have any future plans of playing.”

Hawkins has played in each of 11 games for the Storm (5-6) this season, averaging 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in a little more than nine minutes per game. Her season high for points (17) and minutes (24) came June 22 in a 92-70 loss to the Tulsa Shock.

Hawkins made 7 of 9 field goals in that game, reminiscent of her efficient shooting at Maryland. As a junior, Hawkins led the country in field goal percentage (.623) while averaging 12 points and 9.1 rebounds. Not coincidentally, the Terrapins won their record 10th ACC tournament title and reached an NCAA tournament region final that season.

Last season, Hawkins shot 54 percent, the lowest in her career, and established single-season highs in points (18) and rebounds (9.7) to help Maryland advance to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.

“Right now she’s strictly in a supporting role to our starters, but I think her role will become bigger as time goes along as we’ve sort of watched over the last couple of games,” said Brian Agler, the Storm’s coach and general manager. “She’s getting more playing time, and I think the sky’s the limit for her. I think a lot of it has to do if she can carry over and develop a professional work ethic. It’s a different level coming from college to the WNBA.”

In addition to paying more attention to physical fitness, Hawkins groomed her game for the WNBA by sharpening her jump shot. A threat to score primarily in the low post over the first part of her college career, Hawkins expanded her range to beyond the three-point line by the time she was a senior.

Hawkins made 8 of 29 three-point attempts last season, saddling opponents with matchup issues. Her aptitude for sinking mid- and long-range jumpers consistently drew defenders outside the lane and decluttered the interior for teammates Alyssa Thomas and center Alicia DeVaughn. Both of those players set single-season career highs for points.

But Hawkins never strayed too far from her natural tendencies as a post player. She wound up second in the ACC in rebounding behind Thomas and was a driving force behind the Terrapins finishing second in the country in rebounding margin (plus-13.7) last season.

Hawkins’s 24 rebounds against Wake Forest during the 2011-12 season set a program record. The only players ahead of Hawkins on the school’s career rebounding list are WNBA standouts Crystal Langhorne, who plays for the Mystics, and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Marissa Coleman.

“She shows that she belongs,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said of Hawkins. “Absolutely really proud of her in the fact that she put all this hard work in the last four years and might have come to Maryland not knowing if she had the capability or the dream to play in the WNBA. Now she’s living out so many people’s dream at that next level.”