- @ Florida Gators - March 8, 2014 - 12:00 PM EST - O'Connell Center - Gainesville, Fla. - CBS
A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Starting today and continuing throughout the summer, CoachCal.com will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. First up is Kentucky native Dominique Hawkins.
For someone who had just kept the secret of his lifetime, Dominique Hawkins, if only for an instant, felt like he made a major misstep in kicking off his dream come true.
Just a couple months earlier, he kept the ultimate hush-hush by avoiding questions, dodging his friends and telling just about no one that John Calipari had fulfilled his lifelong wish to receive a scholarship offer from the University of Kentucky.
Now, just two weeks into the start of his journey as a Kentucky basketball player, Hawkins received a text message from his friend that hinted that he might be in trouble for talking to the media about the “Wildcat Code,” what was supposed to be an in-house motivational system to make the players earn everything they get.
“A friend texted me and said, ‘Coach Cal is tweeting about you. That’s pretty neat,’ ” Hawkins said.
Uh oh, Hawkins thought. He had an idea the subject of the tweet was anything but “neat.”
“He told me it’s the Wildcat Code so suddenly I’m a little bit nervous once I hear about that,” Hawkins said. “I was a little worried about that because I didn’t know we weren’t supposed to talk about it. I was just kind of biting my nails on that, making sure I wasn’t in trouble and didn’t have to run extra or something like that.”
Fortunately for Hawkins, he never got in trouble. Coach Cal wanted him to sweat a little bit and tweeted that Hawkins had “spilled the beans,” but Calipari said both publicly and privately to him that talking about it wasn’t a big deal.
Perhaps Calipari wanted to tease him because Hawkins had shown such restraint in withholding news that few other people could have managed at his age and in his situation.
Following what will be remembered as one of the all-time greatest individual performances in the Kentucky Sweet Sixteen, Kentucky’s one-of-a-kind state tournament, Hawkins received what he had coveted for so long from the school he grew up loving.
Hawkins had an idea after attending back-to-back UK practices at the Joe Craft Center that a scholarship offer was coming his way, but the dream became a reality two weeks later when Calipari showed up in his locker room at Madison Central High School with a simple question: “Are you ready for this?”
Are you kidding, Hawkins thought. He had been ready his entire life. Unfortunately for the 2013 Kentucky Mr. Basketball winner, he had to wait to tell the rest of the world.
Coach Cal asked Hawkins to keep the news a secret until a few things were figured out. Knowing that one rumor could turn into message-board fire, he told only his high school coach, Allen Feldhaus, his mother, and his girlfriend.
“I knew they wouldn’t tell nobody,” Hawkins said. “I told them, ‘Please don’t tell nobody because I don’t want this getting out and me getting in trouble about it.’ ”
The only person that let it slip was himself.
“I might have given one of my friends a hint that I was going,” Hawkins said. “He asked me, ‘Has UK offered?’ I think there was a book that said ‘offered, accepted’ on it and I kind of was just like, ‘Look at the book,’ and walked away. I don’t know if he got the hint or not, but that’s what I did.”
Date of birth: June 27, 1994
Parents: Denise Hawkins, Doug Farris
Hometown: Richmond, Ky.
High school: Madison Central
Favorite TV show: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Favorite food: Tacos
Favorite superhero: Spider-Man
Favorite player: LeBron James
Favorite hobby outside of basketball: Watching movies
Favorite movie: The Blind Side
Favorite artist: Drake
Nobody said a word until Hawkins’ public presser at Madison Central High School on April 10.
Before that magical Sweet Sixteen run, UK was nothing but a pipe dream for the Kentucky-born guard. He had been in contact with nine different schools and had scholarships offers from a few of them, but the only time Kentucky had contacted him and watched him was at practice the week before the state tournament.
Hawkins’ cousin Marquis Estill, who was on staff at the time as an undergraduate assistant coach, was in ears of every UK coach telling them they needed to give Hawkins a look. In the midst of a season in which the Wildcats lacked toughness and that special will to win, Hawkins seemed to have the missing ingredients, Estill told the staff.
Still, Hawkins had no clue that his on-court perseverance would give him a shot. His mother did, but she wasn’t going to take a chance and tell her son.
“She never told me because she doesn’t want me getting nervous,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins didn’t even know Calipari and Co. were in the stands at the Sweet Sixteen until after his 25-point game against Wayne County in the first round. The performance was enough to get an invite to one of UK’s practices.
Hopeful but unsure if Calipari would return for the second game, there was a noticeable buzz in the arena as Hawkins’ team took on Holmes High School. Focused on the game, Hawkins didn’t know Coach Cal had returned until a couple of his teammates started to nudge him and point to the stands.
Right at home, seated just a few feet from the court, was Coach Cal.
“I didn’t know they were coming to any of the games, to be honest,” Hawkins said. “When they saw him, my friends told me on the court, ‘You know Coach Cal is here and looking at you.’ I’m telling them to shut up because I’m trying to get focused on the game.”
A mixture of emotions hitting him all at once, Hawkins let out a deep breath, swiftly soaked in the moment and turned his attention back to the game.
“My eyes blew up big and my heart started beating faster because I knew he was there,” Hawkins said.
Amazingly, Hawkins didn’t let the surprise or the pressure ruin his game. After a slow start, Hawkins put on a show for Calipari, Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne, finishing with 31 points and 12 rebounds in a thriller with Holmes.
Hawkins followed up his quarterfinals performance with another sensational outing, scoring 30 points and grabbing 10 rebounds – with Calipari in the stands yet again – in another gritty comeback. Hawkins was invited to another practice after that game, and he had an idea after that visit that a scholarship offer was eventually coming.
Hawkins was ready for the challenge.
The scholarship offer came, as did the state championship, Sweet Sixteen MVP and Mr. Kentucky Basketball honors. People say all the time that they are living their dream, but at that point, Hawkins really was.
The announcement that he was headed to Kentucky capped what Hawkins said was indubitably the biggest month of his life.
“Nothing better else could have happened,” Hawkins said. “That’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
The most difficult part about the process for Hawkins was telling the handful of schools who had been in on him and developed a relationship with him from the beginning that he wouldn’t be attending their school.
Hawkins said Western Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Butler and Morehead State recruited him the hardest, but it didn’t matter once Kentucky was involved.
“Even if an NBA team offered me to come on their team, I’m going to UK first,” Hawkins said. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Hawkins was initially worried about letting down some of those schools that had recruited him so thoroughly, but he was surprised to find out how much those schools encouraged him to go to UK.
“They gave me advice to even go to Kentucky because they said I would get looked at if I wanted to go to the NBA, and going to Kentucky people are always going to remember you for what you have done and all the great stuff,” Hawkins said. “They still wanted me to come to their school. They put some ideas in my head if I wanted to go to their school like I would probably get a lot of playing time, but I know I’m not a one-and-done person. I’m coming here for at least three or four years, so I’m just going to do what I have to for those three of four years.”
That isn’t Hawkins’ admission that he isn’t going to play in his first year at Kentucky. Far from it.
Although UK’s recruiting class is regarded by some as the best ever, and though Hawkins isn’t one of the six signees ranked in Rivals’ top-20 player rankings, Hawkins isn’t ready to concede his first year on the bench.
After hanging with his teammates and succeeding in the ballyhooed pick-up games at the Craft Center, Hawkins is confident he can contribute as a freshman.
“I’m going to play my role, whatever my role is,” Hawkins said. “I’m just going to work hard and do the things that the coaches are telling me to do because I’m not a player that’s going to beg for playing time and be all pouty about it. I’m going to do whatever the team needs. Everybody needs a good role player, and I can definitely be that.”
Hawkins was signed because of his toughness, and that’s exactly what he hopes to bring in his first season at UK.
“It got me here, and I’m hoping to do the same as I continue to play here,” Hawkins said.
Andrew Harrison figures to be the favorite to start at the point, but he won’t be without some competition. Never mind Jarrod Polson, who emerged as a frequent contributor last season and could be one again in 2013-14, Hawkins gave the Harrison twins all they could handle in a game in December.
In that outing, Hawkins (29 points) outscored both Andrew (25) and Aaron (three). It was just one game – in high school, no less – but it gave a glimpse into his mental makeup.
“It definitely gave me confidence because they’re basically the No. 1 point guard and the No. 1 shooting guard, so I feel like if I can compete with them, I can compete with anybody,” Hawkins said.
Although he’s held his own in those pick-up games, Hawkins admitted the talent level and competition on this upcoming team are unlike anything he’s ever seen.
“I look at that as a challenge because everybody on the team is going to make each other better,” Hawkins said. “I’m thinking practices are going to be harder than the games for all of us because we’re all going to compete and make each other better. We’re not going to back down from any other team, I know that. We’re going to make each other tougher. We’re going to learn how to be leaders as UK basketball players.”
His teammates may not have the blue-coated roots that he does, but Hawkins said they have taken it upon themselves to erase the disappointment of last year and chase another national championship. They’ve even embraced the challenge of going undefeated.
“We definitely feel like we’re on a mission because everybody knows what happened last year,” Hawkins said. “We definitely don’t want to be in the NIT. We’re trying to go undefeated and win a championship. … It’s just going to be crazy this season. This is going to be a fun ride and everybody’s going to work hard and want to win. We’re going to try to make this as fun as we can.”
The fun started a long time ago for Hawkins. It sounds cliché – perhaps a story too good to be true – but the Kentucky kid with Kentucky dreams is now living them.
“This really is a dream come true,” Hawkins said. “I’m blessed.”
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