While his teammates provide the flash and dash to Kentucky’s bolt from the gate this season, senior Dominique Hawkins is quietly showing startling improvement.
His career-high nine assists were almost an afterthought in UK’s 111-76 victory over Tennessee-Martin on Friday.
“Dom, right now, I think has 18 assists to two turnovers for the season,” UK Coach John Calipari said. “I think it’s 18-3. Like a ridiculous number.”
It’s actually more ridiculous than that. Hawkins has 19 assists and only two turnovers. That’s two turnovers in 103 minutes.
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“Dom is so much better,” Calipari said. “As a player. Confident.”
Hawkins attributed his glittering numbers to a greater opportunity to play. He played a career-high 32 minutes, in part because he started in place of sophomore Isaiah Briscoe.
His teammates vouched for Hawkins’ ability to contribute.
“The second I walked in the door, I knew Dom was a lock-down defender,” Mychal Mulder said, “and a knock-down shooter. I know what kind of player Dom is.”
Bam Adebayo playfully (?) suggested Hawkins could do well in more than one sport.
“I thought Dom should have played football and be a running back,” Adebayo said. “I’m just glad I got a pit bull on my team.”
Calipari gave an inconclusive update on Briscoe, who sat out a second straight game because of an undisclosed back injury.
“They’re going to do an MRI tonight because they’re surprised it’s still bothering him,” Calipari said. “So let’s hope it’s clear for his sake.”
Derek Willis left the court during Friday’s game and went to the locker room. He sprained his right thumb.
Calipari said he did not know if Willis would be sidelined.
When asked why Kentucky’s freshmen have meshed together so well so quickly, Hawkins suggested their NBA aspirations served as motivation.
“Everybody wants to go to the league,” he said, “and everybody wants to be able to show they can make it at the higher level.”
Tougher games ahead?
While Kentucky is off to a historic start, Calipari cautioned that more competitive competition is straight ahead. He noted such future opponents as Arizona State (Monday), UCLA (next weekend), North Carolina, Louisville and Kansas.
“So our run of games is going to be coming now,” Calipari said.
Of the upcoming games, Bam Adebayo said, “We’ve got to step up to the challenge, and come together even more. We’re going to make mistakes in games, but we’re going to keep playing hard.”
Calipari suggested that he’d like to see more of Malik Monk’s sequence of back-to-back dunks. And not simply because the dunks excited the fans and UK players.
“There was that one spell where we steal-dunk, steal-dunk, steal-dunk. And, I mean, that’s who I hope we are.”
Calipari has been talking about Monk not relying solely on a perimeter shot. So the UK coach liked that Monk scored a career-high 26 points while making only two of eight three-point shots.
“Now he’s not just shooting threes,” Calipari said.
Of Kentucky’s 41 baskets, 24 also included an assist. So far this season, there has been an assist credited on 58.2 percent of UK’s baskets (116 of 199).
“Part of it is they’re all comfortable in their own skin,” Calipari said. “They’re not competing with another player on the team. We’re competing against the other team.”
Three games in five days this week was nothing new for Tennessee-Martin. The Skyhawks played four games in eight days prior to this week: at Mississippi and at home against UT Rio Grande Valley, Cumberland and Cleveland State.
The game at UK completed another stretch of three games in five days: the Skyhawks played at Canisius and Duquesne on Monday and Wednesday of this week.
“I look at it as preparation for your conference tournament,” Anthony Stewart said.
Both coaches are natives of the Pittsburgh area, which Stewart said had nothing to do with UK scheduling a game against Tennessee-Martin.
Calipari grew up in Moon Township. Stewart grew up in what he called “The Hill District.” He played baseball (pitcher) and basketball (wing) for Mount Union.