By Nathan Hutchinson
About a year ago, Dominique Hawkins started getting scholarship offers from Division I basketball programs.
At that time, the interest was coming from primarily mid-major schools — like Eastern Kentucky University, Tennessee Tech, Morehead State and others.
Still, Hawkins hoped offers from bigger schools would eventually come, especially if he had a solid senior season.
He did, and the offers started flowing in.
On Wednesday, the Madison Central senior point guard verbally committed to the University of Kentucky. In front of the entire student body and several dozens members of the media who had gathered in the school’s gym, Hawkins put on a gray UK hat that featured his name and uniform number, 25.
The crowd chanted, “C — A — T — S, CATS, CATS, CATS” as Hawkins received congratulatory hugs from his family.
For a while Wednesday morning, Hawkins was trending nationally on the social media site Twitter.
“I’m so glad we held out for bigger and better things,” Hawkins said. “This is my dream school, and I’ve always wanted to go to UK. It’s a dream come true.”
The announcement was one of the biggest in school history.
Hawkins is the first Central player to commit to Kentucky since Marquis Estill — Hawkins’ cousin — in 1999.
This year’s Kentucky Mr. Basketball grew up a UK Wildcats fan and always wanted to play for the school.
He just needed an offer.
And he got that on March 12 when the Indians visited a Kentucky practice at the Joe Craft Center in Lexington.
Hawkins, however, had to wait almost a month to make the decision public.
That was rather difficult.
“On Twitter and Facebook, anywhere people can contact me, they kept asking, ‘Has UK offered you yet?,’” Hawkins said. “I just kept my mouth shut. It’s been very hard to do that.”
As media speculation swirled around Hawkins and a possible scholarship offer, Madison Central officials waited until they received clearance from UK to make any formal announcement.
“It’s been crazy,” Central coach Allen Feldhaus Jr. said. “Being a life-long UK fan myself, you don’t know how hard its been for me to keep all that in and have to deal with (lots) of phone calls every day wanting to know what the deal is and I really couldn’t say anything.”
The scholarship offer was a closely guarded secret until Wednesday.
Just a couple of months ago, Kentucky head coach John Calipari didn’t seem to have too much interest in Hawkins.
But, given the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of the UK coach during the state tournament, Hawkins didn’t disappoint.
The senior point guard led the charge as Madison Central claimed the school’s first-ever Sweet 16 championship. He scored 107 points in the four games at Rupp Arena, had 21 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game and was named the MVP of the tournament.
Calipari was courtside to watch several of Central’s Sweet 16 wins.
“You kind of sit back and wonder, ‘What would have happened if we didn’t make the state tournament?,’” Feldhaus said. “Of course he would be signing a Division I scholarship, but with who? I thought it was so important to showcase Dominique by playing in all the big events we played in. But really, the icing on the cake was getting to the Sweet 16. That’s where Cal got to see him play.”
The interest in Hawkins really picked up near the end of the season. The senior got visits and calls from a long list of schools, including Alabama, Western Kentucky, Tennessee, Purdue and South Carolina.
He also spoke with Rick Pitino, but Louisville reportedly only wanted to offer Hawkins a spot as a walk-on.
But by the time the Indians had wrapped up the state championship, it seemed almost a certainty that Kentucky would offer a scholarship.
“At the beginning of the recruiting process it was more of a feel-good story, where they were going to offer a good Kentucky kid,” Feldhaus said. “Almost like (Cal) was doing us a favor. After he saw Dominique play a couple of times at the state tournament, I think he kind of reversed that and realized that we were doing him a favor by allowing Dominique to come to UK.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, Hawkins said that if Kentucky had not offered, he likely would have signed with Western Kentucky.
The Central senior is set to join one of the greatest recruiting classes in college basketball history. Kentucky already commitments from McDonald’s All-Americans Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee, Julius Randle and James Young, also well as Bullitt East standout Derek Willis.
That outstanding incoming class has already made the Cats the odds-on favorites to win the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Hawkins was not nearly as highly recruited as most of those players, but he still thinks he can make an immediate impact as a freshman.
“You’ve just got to work hard,” Hawkins said. “I’m going to work my hardest and try to get some playing time. If not, then I’m just going to play my role.”