Ex-Cat Dominique Hawkins prepares for The Basketball Tournament in Lexington
With a few months off since completing his second season of basketball overseas, former University of Kentucky basketball fan favorite Dominique Hawkins thought getting back together to play with and against some of his old friends for a shot at $2 million seemed like a good idea.
“I’m usually just hanging out with friends and family and trying to stay off my feet as much as I can, because I know I’m going to be playing basketball for eight months or so, but this month I’m back in the gym with TBT,” said Hawkins, who earned Mr. Basketball honors and a Sweet Sixteen title with Madison Central in 2013 ahead of his UK career. “It’s been fun being back with Marcus (Lee), and hopefully we can make a good run.”
The TBT is “The Basketball Tournament,” an annual event making the biggest splash of its six-year run this summer with regional competitions among teams comprised of hometown favorites, ex-NBA players, overseas pros and many other young hopefuls.
The Lexington Regional — one of eight nationally in the 64-team tourney — will be played Friday through Sunday at Frederick Douglass High School. Saturday’s regional semifinals will be broadcast on ESPN2 and Sunday’s regional finals will be on ESPN. The winner moves o nto the national quarterfinals in Chicago for a shot at the $2 million prize.
Hawkins was recruited to the “Bluegrass Boys” team by Kentucky teammate Derek Willis. He liked that a lot of pros like him were involved and the idea of getting back together with some old friends and reminiscing, but “the money is what makes most people want to play. It definitely gets your attention.”
While Willis ultimately had to bow out after getting invited to play for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Summer League, Hawkins has former Cats Lee, Kevin Galloway, AJ Stewart and Ramon Harris on the squad with Wayne Turner head coaching and Mark Krebs serving as general manager. Josh Harrellson is also on the roster but wasn’t at the team’s shoot-around Thursday at the Kentucky Basketball Commission.
“I’ve definitely missed playing in Kentucky,” Hawkins said after a workout of about an hour at KBC filled with a lot of smiles and some good-natured trash talking.
Former Kentucky standout and new Los Angeles Laker DeMarcus Cousins is general manager for a team named Loyalty is Love in the Lexington Regional and will be here for their opening game Friday. Cousins’ team is the No. 1 seed in Lexington, Hawkins’ Bluegrass Boys are No. 2.
Thursday’s practice under Turner was far more laid back than anything he experienced at UK or Madison Central, Hawkins said.
“I’ve never had a coach like him before. He’s so relaxed,” Hawkins said, smiling. He’s not complaining. “I’m so used to Coach Cal and Allen Feldhaus always in my face and stuff.”
Taking turns on the KBC court ahead of the Bluegrass Boys was another of the Lexington Regional teams with two Mr. Basketballs to the Bluegrass Boys’ one. Team KBC, coached by Bryan Station product Shelvin Mack, has Mason County’s Chris Lofton (2004 Mr. Basketball) and Christian County’s Anthony Hickey (2011). Lofton just completed a season in South Korea after playing a number of years in Europe. Hickey just finished his fourth pro season in the Greek Basket League.
Hawkins made his way to Estonia out of college on the advice of his agent. The small northeast European nation loves basketball, but the winters are a bit harsh there, Hawkins said.
“I didn’t have that much snow in Kentucky,” Hawkins said. “ We get like 6 inches almost every week (in Estonia). It was insane for me.”
Hawkins hasn’t picked up on much of the Estonian language other than “hello” and “goodbye,” and he’s grateful there are plenty of burger joints there to keep his “picky eater” ways from having to try the more local offerings. His first stop when he gets back home is always Chick-fil-A.
“I missed it so much — so much,” Hawkins said.
As for his, professional future, Hawkins is a free agent weighing a couple of offers, but he won’t decide on a new contract until mid-August.
This weekend he’ll display the game he’s developed after his experience overseas, which he says will look a lot more like his days at Madison Central than at Kentucky.
“I’m more aggressive now,” he said. “I had the ball in my hands a lot more than I ever had. I feel like I’m way more comfortable being a point guard, controlling the team and making the calls.”
And he’s looking forward to getting the ball up to Lee.
“I’ve never really had real athletic bigs playing overseas, so it’s fun to get back to throwing lobs and doing pick and rolls, knowing I’ll probably be open because of his dominant post work,” Hawkins said.
The Basketball Tournament
Lexington Regional schedule
At Frederick Douglass High School
3 p.m.: No. 3 seed Wayne Champs vs. No. 6 Showtime (ESPN3)
5 p.m.: No. 1 Loyalty is Love vs. No. 8 Hoopville Warriors (ESPN3)
7 p.m.: No. 4 KBC vs. No. 5 Peoria All-Stars (ESPN3)
9 p.m.: No. 2 Bluegrass Boys vs. No. 7 D2 (ESPN3)
4 and 6 p.m.: Semifinals (ESPN2)
2 p.m.: Championship game (ESPN)
Available at the gate or online at thetournament.com/tickets ($20 general admission; $13 each for Family Four Pack; $10 age 13 and under; $15 student/military with ID; $75 courtside)