The Richmond Register

Sports

October 17, 2013

NCAA BASKETBALL: Hawkins draws high praise from new teammates

LEXINGTON — Just a few weeks into his Kentucky Wildcats career, some of Dominique Hawkins’ teammates have figured out what Madison Central fans have known for years; he is a very good basketball player.

Hawkins arrived at UK without the fanfare of many of his more ballyhooed freshman classmates, but in a short time, he’s already gotten the attention of some of the upperclassmen.

“Dominique is one of the biggest surprises of the freshmen,” UK sophomore Alex Poythress said. “He’s a lot better than I thought he would be. He plays really hard all the time and he doesn’t back down, even to the bigger guys.”

Coach John Calipari has paired Hawkins with fellow Kentuckians, seniors Jon Hood and Jared Polston, during early practices because they have walked in his shoes, coming in with much more publicized teammates in their classes.

Polston said Hawkins has impressed him with his play already.

“I keep telling him to stay confident and your time will come. But he has surprised me how good he is this year. I think his success might come a lot sooner than he thinks,” Polston said. “He’s so strong. He’s already one of the strongest players on the team and he’s only a freshman. He’s really gritty and gets into you on defense and he’s not going to back down from anyone. And that’s what I like about him.”

Calipari echoed the players assessment of Hawkins’ toughness at Tuesday’s media day and also praised Dominique’s work ethic.

“He had his best practice Monday. He made jump shots, he made runners ... and that’s against a 7-footer now. There’s always a 7-footer on the court and there’s always another 6-foot-10 guy out there and the guards he’s going against are 6-foot-5. He’s not afraid. He’s physically not going to back down,” Calipari said. “With our Wildcat Code, every two weeks we judge it and he and Julius (Randle) are one and two or two and one. So he does everything he’s supposed to. He’s a great kid.”

Hawkins said he knew coming in that he would have to prove himself, and he wasn’t intimidated to take on his talented teammates and was confident he could earn their respect.

“I knew I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American coming in and the other guys probably looked at me as a walk-on. But once we started playing pick-up games they realized I got a scholarship because of how hard I work and that I love to play the game of basketball,” Hawkins said. “I was definitely looking forward to the challenge here and I wasn’t intimidated or anything. I was ready to go against the Harrison twins.”

In practice Hawkins has to guard the much bigger Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, every day.

That daily competition, Hawkins said is making him better, but it’s not a one-way street, he’s pushing the twins as well.

“In practice I have to give it my all because I have to go against Aaron and Andrew, which I love because it is making me better on both ends. When they guard me when I’m attacking the rim, their great defense is making me have to be better,” Hawkins said. “They are going to have to play against short point guards like me so me pushing them 100 percent up and down the court, it’s definitely making them better ball handlers, and me being strong against them makes them have to go fight harder to get to the basket.”

His defensive pressure on the ball, Hawkins said, as well as his ability to get to the basket and find open teammates for shots are the biggest contributions he can make to the team.

But the jump from high school to major college basketball has meant making some adjustments to his game, Hawkins said.

“In high school I could jog up and down the court and still get back on defense. Now it is a full sprint because with this talent everybody is running full speed so I have to run full speed with them. And when I went down the lane I could just do a little finger roll, but now when I go in the lane against these big guys I have to throw a really high floater or they will swat it away,” Hawkins said. “I’m also working hard on how to shoot the ball a lot better and I’m working to become a leader.”

Coming to UK as the reigning Kentucky Mr. Basketball should make Hawkins a fan favorite, but some people wondered if it would also add some pressure.

“I have no pressure at all. I’m blessed to be called a Mr. Basketball and I’m blessed to be a the University of Kentucky and I’m having a lot of fun being here in school,” Hawkins said. “I hope I am a fan favorite because I love the fans. I’ve wanted to play at UK since I was a little kid. I can’t wait to play my first game in that Kentucky jersey. When I get on the court I’m going to play my heart out and do my best.”

Before that first game, the Big Blue Nation will get its first look at Hawkins and his ever-present smile Friday during Big Blue Madness and Hawkins said he can’t wait.

“I know it’s going to be wild, the place will be packed and the fans will be going crazy,” Hawkins said. “Growing up I wanted to be that person that everybody was screaming about when they come out in Rupp Arena. Now I’m actually going to get to do it. It’s insane. I can’t wait.”

It’s been a tradition in recent years for players to do some type of dance to their favorite songs when they were introduced at Big Blue Madness. Hawkins said he has something planned, but wouldn’t divulge his entrance, saying it’s a secret.

“We’ve all talked about what we want to do and I have everything picked out but its a surprise,” Hawkins said. “I just can’t wait to go out there, but everybody will have to wait till Friday find out if I’m goofy or not.”

Big Blue Madness festivities get underway at 7:30 p.m. in Rupp Arena.

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