UK Men's Basketball

Meet the Cats: No more time for fear as Hawkins tries to find his niche

Kentucky guard Dominique Hawkins, left, shoots a jump shot in the  second half.?   The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Missouri,  Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.?   Photo by Jonathan Palmer
Kentucky guard Dominique Hawkins, left, shoots a jump shot in the second half.? The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Missouri, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015 at Rupp Arena in Lexington.? Photo by Jonathan Palmer Herald-Leader

A memory from his freshman season remains vivid in Dominique Hawkins' mind. It involves how afraid he was to shoot, and how Kentucky fans unwittingly ratcheted up his anxiety.

"I was very afraid to shoot the ball," he said. "I'm hearing people in the stands saying, 'Shoot it!' All the fans are saying it."

What was Hawkins afraid of?

"I was afraid of missing it ... ," he said. "I look back on it all the time. I remember watching (game) film, seeing the dude sag off me at the free throw line. I never had that happen before. In high school, I would always shoot the ball in a quick second."

Of course, Hawkins was anything but fearful as a player for Madison Central. As a senior, he led his team to the state championship and was named Kentucky's Mr. Basketball.

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So, to see defenses sag off and invite him to shoot a 15-footer was quite a change. When he watched the film, he saw his formerly heroic self unable to take the initiative.

"It made me feel disappointed," he said. "It made me not feel like a basketball player. I was out there just to be out there."

That Hawkins found a way to contribute — as a defensive stopper — can serve as valuable experience going into this coming season. With as many as three other point guards in the mix for playing time, and Tyler Ulis the unquestioned primary ballhandler and decision-maker, Hawkins again will need to be resourceful to get playing time.

The same applies to fellow junior Derek Willis, according to John Calipari.

"Derek, I hope, and Dom look at this and say, 'This is the best opportunity since I've been here to play,'" the UK coach said. "'Now, I've got to take advantage of this.' But they've got to find their way. They have to create their space. ... They have to figure out, 'How do I have to play to get on that floor? What does this team need me to do? Is my value that I can make shots? Then I'm making shots and I'm getting in this gym.'"

If anything, playing time seems an ever-more elusive goal for Hawkins.

"I just look at it (as) it's competition," he said. "I've got to beat somebody out of their spot."

As a freshman, Hawkins became a defensive stopper almost by default. What other role was likely for a player who was afraid to shoot?

Hawkins' defense helped Kentucky reach the 2014 Final Four as he contained such players as Russ Smith of Louisville and Nik Stauskas of Michigan. Defending such teammates as Andrew and Aaron Harrison in practice helped hone his defensive skills, Hawkins said.

Ulis presented a new challenge last season. "I couldn't guard him because I didn't know any of his moves," Hawkins said.

This preseason, he tried to contain freshman Isaiah Briscoe. "He's a dog," Hawkins said. "He reminds me a lot of Andrew when he goes to the rim because he's so big. It's basically bully ball."

All the while, Calipari encouraged Hawkins to shoot open shots.

"I was a little bit more aggressive," Hawkins said of last season. "But this year. I feel like I'm going to be way more aggressive.

"This year, hopefully, I'll have the total package: defense and offense."

As a junior, Hawkins hears his eligibility clock ticking. He knows he's getting closer to now-or-never time.

"I need to be able to find a way to get on the court and show people I can play," he said. "If I don't do that, not be aggressive, nobody's going to even think about me or probably even remember me."

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