Dominique Hawkins has become what many scouts were skeptical of when he signed with Kentucky as a nationally-unheralded prospect: an impact player for this year’s Wildcats.
Many saw Hawkins, the Bluegrass State’s “Mr. Basketball” out of state champion Madison Central High School, as a nice complementary piece to John Calipari’s latest No. 1 recruiting class. In other words, a good player who would be around four years to offset the wave of “one-and-done” players rolling in and out of Lexington.
The 2013-14 season has yet to reach its midpoint, and Hawkins is already much more than that. The 6-foot guard logged a season-high 23 minutes in UK’s SEC opening win over Mississippi State on Wednesday at Rupp Arena. His stat line was modest – four points, two rebounds, two assists – but the fans, and more importantly, his coaches, are seeing the true value he brings to the court.
“He just does what we ask him to do,” UK associate head coach John Robic said after the 85-63 win over the Bulldogs. “He doesn't know any better.”
A refreshing twist for a staff that has been trying to break its five-star recruits of poor habits they brought with them to Lexington along with oozing talent.
“He just brings an energy that you have to find time for him on the floor, and that's why he's out there,” Robic added.
The fans wouldn’t mind seeing even a bit more.
Each time Hawkins received the ball on the offensive end of the floor against Mississippi State, calls of “Shooooot!” could be heard raining down from Rupp Arena’s rafters. He took only five shots, despite being left undefended for most of the night by an MSU defense that focused heavily on Julius Randle.
“Like to see him have a little bit more confidence to shoot the basketball,” Robic said, “because he shoots it well in practice. I was glad to see him knock down his free throws.”
Hawkins has taken only 26 shots this season, hitting just eight. He’s only 2-for-13 from beyond the arc, but those who watched him in high school and those who see him every day in practice at UK know that he’s a much better shooter than he has shown to date.
“I think he's probably not 100 percent confident because he wants to do the right thing,” Robic said. “And if he misses his shot, he probably thinks he did something bad. He's just that type of kid.
“I definitely can hear it, but I just ignore it because I know Coach Cal wants me to run the offensive plays,” Hawkins said. “I basically ignore them when I hear them say, ‘Shoot!’
But isn’t it hard to ignore 23,000-plus directing their collective vocal advice in one’s direction?
“It feels like a big echo of somebody telling me to shoot,” Hawkins said. “It’s pretty crazy because I never had that before because, in high school, I always shot the ball. If I was open, I was definitely shooting it.”
"I’m not even worried about that," the UK boss said. "You keep that energy on, you keep defending."
Count sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein among those who’d like to see more shots from No. 25.
“Personally, I think he should have shot way more,” the UK center said. “If they’re going to sag off of you, you may as well shoot it and let us rebound it if you’re worried about missing. In practice, he’s been hitting it. So if you’ve been hitting it in practice, then I would shoot it. I don’t know. He hits it in practice. I really don’t know why he didn’t shoot it unless coach said for him not to, but I don’t think coach would do that.”
Asked if the players hear the calls of “Shooooot!” from the fans, Cauley-Stein laughed and said: ““Yeah. I probably was one of them yelling.”
Cauley-Stein, who came in slightly under the recruiting radar as well, said Hawkins has quickly earned his teammates’ respect.
“I didn’t know who he was coming in,” he said. “I honestly couldn’t tell you what he looked like, what his last name was coming in. But he can hoop. I love him to death, too. He’s a great guy, and he can hoop. If he can keep on hooping like that, we’re going to be all right.”
Kentucky (11-3, 1-0 SEC) returns to action Saturday at Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-1 SEC) in a 3:30 p.m. ET tip on CBS.