The rapid rise of Kentucky freshman Dominique Hawkins might surprise those not familiar with his go-go approach.
"I thought it was just a matter of time," said Allen Feldhaus, who coached Hawkins at Madison Central High. "I didn't know his time would come quite this early."
Four games into UK's season finds Hawkins already evolved from perceived practice player to trusted backup to fellow freshman Andrew Harrison at point guard. In the pre-season, UK Coach John Calipari suggested the practice-player role by noting how Hawkins could approximate the kind of one-on-one competition Harrison would face in games.
Then, Hawkins played a career-high 18 minutes against Robert Morris on Sunday, which followed a six-minute relief stint against now-No. 1 Michigan State last week.
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Not only does Hawkins give Harrison a breather, he sparks the UK team with infectious enthusiasm and can-do play.
"You know, I'm not afraid to go to him," UK Coach John Calipari said after Sunday's game. "I'm just not. I think he's a pretty good player. He's good for our team."
Hawkins' play against Robert Morris (four points, three assists, no turnovers) led Calipari to note how UK continues to monitor heart rates in an effort to determine effort. Calipari spoke of monitoring heart rates last season as one of his many ultimately futile schemes to get players to try harder.
"The kid works so hard," the UK coach said. " ... I have to stop him because I'm afraid he's going to fall out."Hawkins' effort frightened the UK coaches one day. His heart rate rose high enough to cause the coaches to send him to the doctor, Feldhaus said Monday. "That's just the way he goes. He goes after everything full speed."
Marcus Lee, an unrestrained hustler himself, vouched for Hawkins' competitive endurance.
"He really doesn't have an ending point," Lee said.
For example, Lee noted Hawkins' heart rate in practice.
"Everybody else is 72 (beats per minute), maybe 80," Lee said. "Maybe one person is 90. He's at, like, 98, and we just started practicing.
"And our coach is, like, 'Well, Dominique is at 98.'"
To which Lee said the logical response is, "That doesn't count.
"Dominique is always at 98. He sleeps at 98. That's how it is."
UK coach and player saw a practical value of how a fast-beating heart can help the team. It sets an example for others to follow.
"I absolutely love playing with him because he'll step it up," Lee said. "We'll keep going off each other, which I extremely love."
Calipari noted how Hawkins can inject energy in the Kentucky team.
To explain his rise to in-game contributor, Hawkins cited an attention to defense.
"I give energy to the team on defense when I get in the game," he said. " ... I want to be that person that gets everybody going on defense, and making sure everybody is running up and down the court."
Hawkins downplayed the notion that he served as a defensive stopper as well as heart of the offense/team leader at Madison Central. He described himself as the prototypical hub of the high school offense that the coach does not burden with too many defensive responsibilities.
But that's not how Feldhaus recalled it.
"He never got that luxury, I'll tell you that right now," he said. "He guarded the best players. ... I put him on the best perimeter player for the other team every single time."
So far, James Young has that role for UK this season. But Hawkins wants to make his mark defending opponents.
"I definitely want to put ball pressure and make (teammates) see a guy working hard on defense," he said. "Everybody else wants to do it, so it rubs off."
Hawkins' contributions are not necessarily limited to defense. He's shown a knack for throwing lob passes. And Feldhaus expects Hawkins to become more of a scoring threat as he becomes more comfortable on the college level.
As a high school senior, Hawkins drew recruiting attention primarily from Western Kentucky and Morehead State. Tennessee watched him play. "He had a great game," Feldhaus said. "We never heard from them again until the state tournament."
By then, Hawkins was leading Madison Central to the state championship and being named Most Valuable Player of the Sweet 16.
Hawkins' size (listed at 6-foot, 193) dampened recruiting enthusiasm. But, as Feldhaus noted, "They don't look at the size of that heart."
Texas Arlington at Kentucky
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday | Series: First meeting
Records: UT Arlington 2-2; Kentucky 3-1
TV: Time Warner Cable picked up the game for parts of the state. See Page C4 for channel listings.
Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1, WLAP-AM 630
John Clay's live blog: Follow at johnclay.bloginky.com
Twitter updates: @JerryTipton and @johnclayiv