Kentucky wins. Kentucky loses. Kentucky makes highlight plays that thrill. Kentucky makes what Coach John Calipari disparaged as “cute” plays.
All the while through four seasons, steady as the North Star, is Dominique Hawkins.
“He’s like old reliable,” Calipari said after Kentucky beat Tennessee 83-58 Tuesday. “You know you can go to him.”
Hawkins has been Kentucky’s Swiss Army knife. Multiple uses and adaptability have marked his time as a UK player. He’s a man for all reasons. He is the steady tortoise on a team of hares. On one freshman-dependent team after another, reliability is a valued commodity.
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Against Tennessee, Hawkins scored 10 points (the second double-digit scoring game of his career) and equaled a career-high of four rebounds.
Calipari said he always expected Hawkins to be a contributor.
“I did,” he said. “And I’ll tell you why. Because he is a fierce competitor. He’s tough as nails.. He will come up with (loose balls). Any 50/50 ball, he’s getting. And offensively, he’s gotten better each year.”
Hawkins needed several sentences to explain how he contributes. On-ball defense might be Job One in this season of opponents driving to the basket.
“How about ball pressure?” Calipari said. “If we’re not pressuring, you put him in. He’s going to be energy. He’s going to be on the ball.”
Hawkins will handle point guard duties. He will hit the open shot. He will get in the lane and make a floater.
Another consistency is his explanation of how he stayed patient. He averaged 8.4 minutes in his first three seasons.
“I always just say my time is coming,” he said. “Everybody in my family always says be patient. If you’re a patient person, good things will come for you. And I know I’m going to play my hardest.”
When asked what motivated him to play hard when — irony alert — his playing time for Kentucky has been anything but constant or predictable, Hawkins said, “It’s not being on the bench.”
Hawkins laughed. “I don’t want to be on the bench at all,” he said.
Then there’s the fate of annually finding himself behind the next wave of one-and-done guards: Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe last season, Devin Booker and Andrew Harrison his sophomore season, then the Harrison twins and James Young as a freshman.
“It really helps me out a lot,” Hawkins said of this perpetual reserve role. “It’s going against the best. I definitely want to play against the best players because that’s the only way to make it to the national championship.”
As for his basketball future, Hawkins said he hasn’t made any plans.
“I really haven’t thought of my future yet, but I know it’s coming up soon,” he said. “I’m just trying to continue in this season and see what happens for me at the end.”
After Kentucky won at Alabama last weekend, Calipari told reporters that he called a play for Derek Willis. When Willis did not shoot, Calipari called the same play.
On the second running, Willis took and made the shot.
Willis saw this as being better prepared.
“I feel like I’m definitely in a better mindset this year than in the past,” he said. “I get really down on myself and think too much. I try to make everything really complex when it isn’t.
“This year I just go out and play. That’s just how I’ve been taking it.”
Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes did not mince words in describing how poorly his team played.
“We were really just gosh-awful,” he said. “And . . . from Kentucky’s vantage point, I think they probably got everything they wanted to get done.”
Barnes was particularly disappointed in how his team failed to contain Willis.
“We had some ridiculous turnovers, and they converted those,” he said of UK’s 17-4 advantage in points off turnovers. “We were just awful. We didn’t deserve to win tonight because we didn’t do the things we talked about from a mental standpoint and a physical standpoint.”
Summing up, Barnes called it “the worst we’ve played this year.”
Witness to history
Tennessee’s all-time victory total against Kentucky in Rupp Arena remained four.
Former Vol Bert Bertelkamp, who works as an analyst on radio broadcasts of Tennessee games, was present for three of those games. He was a player when UT won here in 1977 and 1979. He worked on the broadcast of the victory in 2006.
“I mention that from time to time,” he said with a smile.
Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld led the victory in 1977 which made Tennessee the first SEC team to beat UK in Rupp.
The 1979 game came in Don DeVoe’s first season as UT coach, Bertelkamp said.
“Winning in here is, obviously, very hard,” he said. “Hard for everybody. (To beat Kentucky in Rupp) is just an overwhelming experience.”
Not washed up
The manager who failed to wipe off the floor where Malik Monk slipped at Tennessee was not dismissed from the team, UK said. He remains a manager.