Count Hawkins among those welcoming Harrisons' return

jtipton@herald-leader.comJune 12, 2014 

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Kentucky's Dominique Hawkins (25) put up a shot late in the first half of the NCAA Final Four semi-finals Saturday April 5, 2014 at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

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  • Poor food/great wall

    Of the trip to China, Hawkins said:

      The food could be questionable. He ate some KFC. "Uh, it was all right," he said before adding, "Some people were saying they put cat in their chicken . . . so I didn't want to eat it."

    He noticed how the Chinese smoked much more than Americans. "The weirdest thing ever (was) fans smoking cigarettes while we were playing," he said. ". . . There's smoke everywhere. I don't think they have, like, a smoking age. . . . We'd seen 14-year-olds smoking a cigarette."

      The Chinese treated the players like celebrities. "It felt like I was at Kentucky," he said.

      Visiting the Great Wall of China was memorable. "I don't really have the words to describe what I felt," he said.

With words and body language, Dominique Hawkins expressed his delight that twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison decided to return as sophomores to Kentucky's basketball team.

"My reaction was, I was like, Yes!," Hawkins said as he raised both hands into the air. "Because I felt like with them coming back, it takes pressure off me because I feel if they were not coming back, I'd have to play lots of minutes."

Hawkins, who spoke to reporters at a Thursday news conference called by UK, acknowledged that the twins' return meant the possibility of less playing time for himself.

"I want to play a lot of minutes . . . ," Hawkins said, "but it takes pressure off me, like, where I can just come in and play relaxed."

Hawkins called the Harrisons "good teammates" and noted how their return reflected the "brotherhood" among Kentucky players.

Of course, the Harrisons' return adds to the perception that Kentucky will be loaded next season.

"I feel we have a special team," Hawkins said of UK's 2014-15 team. "And we're just trying to be able to do something that we weren't able to finish up last year."

Kentucky lost to Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament championship game. Most of the contributing players were talked about as likely entrants into this year's NBA Draft, which will be June 26. But as it turned out, only Julius Randle and James Young entered the draft.

Other players like Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Marcus Lee and the Harrison twins chose to return to UK next season.

"Willie surprised me the most," Hawkins said of the returnees. "Because everybody was telling me he was a lottery pick. People say lottery picks should definitely leave."

Kentucky's incoming freshman class consists of four McDonald's All-Americans: Trey Lyles, Karl Towns, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis.

When asked what advice he'd give the incoming freshmen, Hawkins noted Coach John Calipari's volatility.

"I would say get ready for anything Coach Cal is going to say against you," Hawkins said. "Just be patient with Coach Cal. You never know what's going to happen."

UK called the news conference so Hawkins could talk about a recent trip to China he took as part of a team tour sponsored by Sports Reach. Hawkins said he had only returned to the UK team Wednesday, so he had not yet formed an opinion about the freshmen.

Hawkins noted how in China he tried to play more aggressively, which he suggested was something that could please Calipari.

"Any time I was open, I ended up shooting the ball," he said. "That's definitely what the fans want me to do, and it's what Coach Cal wants me to do. I was way more aggressive on the offensive side. . . ."

Hawkins said he hoped to play a more aggressive style on offense next season as a sophomore.

"Oh definitely," he said. "I know what I'm capable of doing offensively, and everybody who watched me in high school knows I'm capable of scoring the ball really well."

Hawkins, who was named Kentucky's Mr. Basketball as a senior for Madison Central High, said he surprised himself as a UK freshman by playing as well as he did on defense. He only averaged 0.8 points, making 29 percent of his shots (nine of 31), just two of 16 three-point attempts (12.5 percent) and five of 13 free throws (38.5 percent).

"I know my offense will click in for me this year," he said. "I'm pretty confident about that."

Hawkins said he wanted to improve his decision-making, ball-handling and leadership skills in order to play point guard more effectively next season. He also added, "I want to shoot free throws way better."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: jtipton@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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