When the NBA scouts descended on Lexington last weekend for what has become the annual University of Kentucky preseason “combine,” one question was settled.
It is clear who the best athlete on John Calipari’s 2016-17 roster is.
According to results of physical testing from the UK combine reported on DraftExpress.com, one player had the best no-step vertical leap (37 inches), best maximum vertical leap (44.5 inches) and best 185-pound bench press (16 repetitions).
That same player also tied for third in the three-quarters-court sprint (3.18 seconds).
What may surprise some is the identity of the UK player who lit up last weekend’s athletic testing: Senior guard Dominique Hawkins.
At Kentucky Media Day Thursday, I asked the former Madison Central star if he thought UK fans realized he is the best athlete in the Wildcats’ men’s basketball program?
“I don’t know,” Hawkins said. “I guess if they look at the stats numbers (from the combine), they realize it.”
Hawkins’ performance in the 2016 UK combine was no fluke. He matched exactly what he did in 2015 except for the the bench press — where he went from 15 reps last year to 16.
“I really didn’t know I was that strong until I actually did the test,” Hawkins said. “Once I got done, I was shocked myself when I saw I did that.”
In assessing the 2016 UK combine, DraftExpress wrote that Hawkins is “one of the most freakish athletes in college basketball. … Hawkins’ 44.5 in maximum vertical leap puts him on par with the best marks ever produced at the NBA Draft Combine.”
For all his athleticism, Hawkins has scored only 115 points combined in his first three seasons of college basketball.
After leading Madison Central to the 2013 Sweet Sixteen championship, Hawkins could have gone to a lot of places other than UK. At many of those places, he would have been a three-year starter, maybe a 1,000-points career scorer.
He accepted the challenge of Kentucky “because I wanted to play for championships,” the 6-foot, 191-pound guard said.
Even on a roster stocked annually with Calipari’s usual collection of McDonald’s All-Americans, Hawkins has had some signature moments at UK.
During Kentucky’s run to the 2014 NCAA championship game, Hawkins was the Cats’ backcourt defensive stopper, assigned to harass star guards such as Louisville’s Russ Smith and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas.
Last season, Hawkins was a hero of Kentucky’s two-point victory over archrival U of L, making three three-pointers and scoring a career-high 13 points, including UK’s final five.
An ankle sprain in the Cats’ subsequent contest with Mississippi kept Hawkins from having the chance to build on his breakthrough performance vs. Louisville.
One person not surprised that Hawkins performed so well on tests of athleticism is Madison Central head man Allen Feldhaus Jr.
In high school, “Dom had sort of another gear, where he would get in the air in the lane against taller players and he could keep elevating,” Feldhaus Jr. said.
During Hawkins’ senior year, Madison Central was playing at Trinity. Madison Central ran its “Arizona” play — a ball reversal with a back screen leading to a lob pass to Hawkins.
“On the bench, when we saw the pass, we were like ‘That’s too high. Nobody could get that,’” Feldhaus Jr. recalled.
Hawkins soared, caught the ball with one hand and directed it emphatically through the rim with a cuff dunk.
“Even the Trinity cheering section went wild,” Feldhaus Jr. said.
Once his UK days end, Hawkins envisions continuing his basketball career.
“I definitely would love to go overseas and play,” he said. “Anything involved in basketball, I would love to do.”
Many look at a guy with the physical build and quantifiable athleticism of Hawkins and envision him trying a different sport. In his senior year at Madison Central, Hawkins ran for over 1,100 yards as a football running back. He looks like a prototypical SEC defensive back.
“He never has said anything before,” Hawkins said.
For now, Hawkins is hoping he can stay healthy as a UK senior and get an opportunity to show more of his athleticism in his final season of Wildcats hoops.
“I’m just blessed to have the abilities God gave me,” the best athlete in the Kentucky basketball program says.
7 p.m. (SEC Network)