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By CODY PORTER, firstname.lastname@example.org
It was the first of December and the name Dominique Hawkins had yet to be funneled into the houses of the state’s Big Blue faithful. Even the day after, it wasn’t exactly a name on the radar of University of Kentucky basketball head coach John Calipari.
But what happened on that chilly Saturday at the Marshall County Hoop Fest was the first of many meetings between Hawkins and five-star talents Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
The Twins, as they have become labeled so often, of course, helped lead Travis High School to the win. However, it was the performance of the 6-1 Hawkins against the towering duo of guards that stand an already NBA-ready 6-6 that staggered those in attendance.
“All four years that I had him, he really stepped up against the better players,” Madison Central head coach Allen Feldhaus said.
As characteristically humble as he has became known around the UK offices, Hawkins plays down the game in which he slashed his way to 29 points. But he won’t deny the impact it had in raising his confidence as he led Madison Central to a state championship last season.
What may be even more remarkable for the unsung freshman is the effort he has put into becoming the player Calipari became enamored with during last year’s state tournament.
Feldhaus said just a little over a week prior to the weekend in Marshall County, Dominique was still on the football field. Feldhaus said having the chance to constantly focus on his basketball skills will make Hawkins better than he can even imagine while playing in a UK uniform.
“I think the biggest thing is him getting to play basketball 12 months out of the year,” Feldhaus said. “In high school he played football, too, so he didn’t get all of that individual instruction.”
In the considerably short amount of time he’s been on campus, Hawkins said going against the likes of the Harrisons and senior Jarrod Polson has forced him to improve his skill set.
“They steal the ball,” he said with a laugh. “Like in high school, I could just throw a pass and my teammates would get it. I just can’t throw a pass now because it would be stolen and dunked on the other side.”
And in the words of Feldhaus, “He’s not going to back down from anybody,” which makes him the ideal model of not only a teammate, but the next player to line himself in the legacy of Kentucky players who have stayed close to home to don a UK jersey.
“He’s going to do exactly what they want him to do; he’s going to not complain about it. He’s just a hard worker,” Feldhaus said. “If there was ever a poster child for what a high school basketball player should be like, he would be the one.”
When Eric Bledsoe committed to the Cats not so long ago, he too was a wild card with a looming shadow that had the name John Wall. Bledsoe did soar up the recruiting boards late, unlike Hawkins, but the two came to Lexington looking to prove themselves with similar work ethics, playing style and roster challenges that now has the former UK star preparing to start for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
“He’s 6-1. I think they compare him to Bledsoe a little bit as far as his size and strength — he’s a very strong, rugged player,” Feldhaus said. “Nothing would surprise me with what Dominique does because I know what type of kid he is. Strength-wise, he’s got a college body already. He’s strong as an ox.”
Hawkins said it may very well take some time before he can step on the court in a game scenario but he sees “his impact” coming.
“I’m just going to be a leader even if I’m on the bench or if I’m on the court,” Hawkins said. “I like being a leader because I can make my guys on my team do better because I want to win. Nobody wants to lose obviously, but winning makes a day much better.”
Feldhaus went as far to say that Hawkins is the “ultimate teammate,” a compliment noteworthy considering he was the team’s leading scorer in only 15 games through the Indians’ 11th Region championship victory over Lexington Catholic.
“He thinks team first,” Feldhaus said. “I don’t know how many games we played against teams of lesser talent than us … and he would defer to his teammates and let them shine.”
However, when he was called upon, Hawkins graciously made his presence felt, which is what Calipari and the rest of the state learned in March when Madison Central emerged the state champion in a thriller over Ballard.
As the Indians progressed deeper into the state tournament, the recognition grew stronger for Hawkins.
The interest started lower on the D-1 scale with the likes of Western Kentucky and Morehead State calling for him to attend their schools. Point by point and win by win, though, the interest from teams such as Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Butler escalated.
But in the end, nearly all Kentucky boys only have one wish.
“With Dominique, he was a Kentucky fan,” Feldhaus said. “It’s your dream school. We knew right after the state tournament that was where he was going to go.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t a last ditch effort by current Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, then Butler’s head coach who called in an attempt to lure Hawkins to Indianapolis as Madison Central officials were making arrangements for his news conference the morning of April 10.
“Once coach Cal said we want you to go with us, that was all she wrote,” Feldhaus said.
Hawkins said representing the state he’s from adds a new dynamic to playing the game.
“It’s more special I think, because growing up as a kid you watched Kentucky basketball and you’re hoping you can be on the team someday,” Dominique said.