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By LARRY VAUGHT
The only way the Cinderella week for Dominique Hawkins could have been any better would have been if he had hit the shot to win the state championship. Instead, Madison Central teammate Ken-Jah Bosley’s 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left capped an incredible comeback that gave Hawkins and the Indians a 65-64 victory over Ballard in the state title game Sunday at Rupp Arena.
But make no mistake about it. This week belonged to Hawkins, who must be the toast of Richmond today.
Not only did he help Madison Central come from behind to beat Holmes, Hopkinsville and Ballard — which had a 16-point lead midway of the third quarter — but he gave Kentucky coach John Calipari no choice but to pay attention to him. Obviously, once Calipari watched him, he liked what he saw because he kept coming back to Rupp Arena with staff members to see the 6-1 guard.
Hawkins finished the tourney with 108 points in four games — the 12th best total in state tournament history. But statistics don’t accurately measure his worth because the more the pressure intensifies, the better he plays. When Madison Central had to have a play, he made it.
He can score in transition as he did when he went coast-to-coast Sunday to cut Ballard’s lead to 64-62 and set up Bosley’s game-winning shot after a Ballard turnover. He can get to the foul line — as he did time after time in the state. He can hit a 3-point shot. He will rebound — he had a double-double in the semifinals against Hopkinsville. He’ll play defense.
And not once was he overwhelmed by the big stage. It didn’t matter if it was crowd of over 20,000 at the state semifinals or just having Calipari sitting courtside to monitor his every move.
“He is the most unbelievable kid I have ever had the opportunity to coach. He is the most humble, best teammate,” said Madison Central coach Allen Feldhaus. “That is just the type of kid that he is. It doesn’t surprise me it didn’t bother him when Calipari came. The first game he didn’t even know he was there. We don’t tell him. I knew, but we didn’t tell him. It would not have mattered if I had told him or not because he would have reacted the same way.”
Feldhaus said the rare emotion Hawkins showed after a dunk in the comeback win over Holmes in the second round Friday was unusual.
“That’s the first time I have really seen him show emotion like that. If he gets a dunk, he’s usually trying to find his man real quick to pick our pressure back up on defense. He’s just a special human being,” Feldhaus said.
His play at the state earned him a scholarship offer from South Carolina coach Frank Martin to go with the ones he already had from Morehead, Western Kentucky, Valparaiso and Tennessee Tech. More offers should be coming, too. Calipari has already signed six players and still is in the running for three more players — Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins and Aaron Gordon. He also doesn’t know how many of his current underclassmen will be back next year yet.
But the toughness and will to win that Hawkins showed is what has been missing on Calipari’s team most of the season.
Feldhaus said that attitude and talent is “unusual” in today’s players and was something he tried to stress to recruiters all season.
“We were frustrated there early when not many people were looking at him. We thought he could play at a higher level. When they would call, that is the one thing I would mention,” Feldhaus said. “I have seen him for five years and think he is a special player, but the thing that sticks out in my mind as a coach is what a great person he is. He is a better person than he is player. As a coach of 27 years and seeing how kids have changed over that time, he is unique.
“He is just a workhorse. Just a winner. You don’t have to say much to him. If I say Dominique we are not getting much done, I don’t have to raise my voice to him. He takes it personally and will put you on my shoulders and do whatever I need to do. If I need to rebound, I’ll get double figure rebounds, too. If I need to make that steal, guard that person, need to score. He will do whatever he needs to do to win a basketball game. That’s why you have to love him.”
Feldhaus knows Kentucky fans would love Hawkins “because of his work ethic alone.” However, the coach thinks there’s more than a work ethic UK fans could love, too.
“I think he can play, though. It’s not just his work ethic. He is pretty athletic. You notice him getting rebounds going up over top of post players to do that,” Feldhaus said. “I don’t know where he will end up, but somebody is going to get a steal. I promise somebody will get a steal and he will be a pleasure for whoever gets him to coach for four years. I promise you that.”