Sweet Sixteen notes: Hawkins enjoys pressure of playing in front of Calipari

mfields@herald-leader.com broberts@herald-leader.com mmaloney@herald-leader.comMarch 6, 2013 

Dominique Hawkins has been winning big games and putting up impressive numbers all season, but no one from Kentucky's coaching staff ever made it out to Richmond to see him play.

So Hawkins came to them.

UK Coach John Calipari and assistants Orlando Antigua and Kenny Payne were courtside in Rupp Arena on Wednesday to see another solid performance from the senior guard, who led Madison Central to an 81-56 victory over Wayne County in the Sweet Sixteen opener.

Hawkins scored 25 points and made 11 of 17 shots in his first game in front of Calipari.

"It's crazy. It's definitely crazy," Hawkins said. "It's an honor to even play (in Rupp Arena) and for them to be here to watch us is an honor. I hope they come again to watch. I kind of like that pressure — it makes you want to do better."

Antigua made the half-hour drive to watch Hawkins practice last week, but this was the first time that any of UK's coaches had seen him play in a game.

The 6-foot-1 guard already has a walk-on offer from U of L, and he has received interest from Alabama, Tennessee and Purdue in recent weeks.

After Wednesday's game, Hawkins talked about the possibility of a Kentucky scholarship offer.

"It would be really hard to turn down," he said.

Wayne County Coach Rodney Woods was asked if Hawkins could play in the SEC. He took the opportunity to crack a little wise about one of the (many) SEC programs having a down year.

"Sure, for somebody," he said. "I don't know, are we talking about UK, Tennessee, Florida? Or are we talking about Mississippi State. I think I might be able to play for Mississippi State right now."

But, seriously, Woods said he'd have to see Hawkins play against "some guys that are as quick as him and see how well he handles that."

He handled UK signees Andrew and Aaron Harrison just fine earlier this season, scoring 29 points against the twins in a game at the Marshall County Hoop Fest.

Another opportunity could come Friday, when Hawkins will likely be matched up against Holmes point guard James "Beetle" Bolden.

Bolden, a 5-11 sophomore, received a scholarship offer from Xavier over the weekend and is already being looked at by several other high-major programs.

Like Hawkins, Bolden said he grew up a UK fan and relished the opportunity to play in Rupp Arena.

"This is my dream college," he said. "For me to go out there and play on that court, it means a lot to me. I was very excited."

Sunday hoops

When the KHSAA was forced by a scheduling conflict to tweak the Boys' Sweet Sixteen format this year and play the finals on Sunday, Stan Steidel was thinking, "What took you so long?"

Steidel is one of the founders of the All "A" Classic, an annual small-school state basketball tournament that has been holding its semifinals on Saturday and its championship games on Sunday since 1990.

The KHSAA has traditionally held its semifinals on Saturday morning/early afternoon, and the finals that night.

"We weren't going to do that because we didn't think it was fair to the kids," Steidel said. "It's the biggest game of their life, and you're making them play two in one day?"

Steidel said there's "never been a negative at all," playing the All "A" on Sunday.

He also noted that last weekend's 9th Region final was played on Sunday night and drew a full house at the Bank of Kentucky Center.

"If you've got a good game, people will come and watch," he said.

KHSAA saves dollars, trees

There are no program-hawkers at the Sweet Sixteen this week because there are no programs to sell. KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said it was an easy decision to not have programs at any of the organization's championships this school year.

"We were losing major money on this event and many others with programs," he said. "We're talking about close to $75,000. It was bleeding us dry to the point where we might have had to cancel a championship or cut staff. You can't do that. It's not good business."

Tackett said that money will instead go "into things for kids."

The KHSAA did produce a full Sweet Sixteen program online that fans can access at khsaa.org.

"It's better than anything we ever printed and we don't have any printing costs," Tackett said.

Tackett said people his age (50-and-over) are the only ones complaining about not having a program available on sale at Rupp.

"We liked having them, but younger people don't use them, they just trash them," he said.

Mr. Hoops campaigns

Hawkins and Montgomery County's Omar Prewitt are among five finalists for Mr. Basketball. The other three — Trinity's Darryl Hicks and Bullitt East teammates Derek Willis (a University of Kentucky signee) and Rusty Troutman (Bellarmine) — didn't make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

According to the sponsoring Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation, the voting for Mr. and Miss Basketball will be open until March 20. That means Hawkins and Prewitt have a chance to do a little campaigning on the court.

Book signings scheduled

Keith O'Brien spent the 2009-10 basketball season following Billy Hicks' Scott County Cardinals and wrote a book about them and Kentucky high school hoops in general.

O'Brien will be selling Outside Shot at the Sweet Sixteen the next few days. He will be on the second floor of the Lexington Center starting at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, at 5:30 on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

Outside Shot focuses on Scott County's up-and-down season-long journey to the Sweet Sixteen and delves into the personal stories of Hicks and his players.

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