Hawkins Seeks Redemption in Senior Year

Dominique Hawkins was having the best preseason of his Kentucky career last year. He was hitting shots, playing with confidence and locking down defensively. He was playing so well that he had worked his way into the rotation.

Then it all came crashing down. On Oct. 5, 2015, it was announced Hawkins had broken his right hand at practice and would miss approximately one month’s time. 

“At that point I was just so frustrated, to be honest,” Hawkins said. “I knew I was going to be able to come back in four to five weeks, and I told myself when I come back just get in the gym and get ready because you’re going to get an opportunity to play this year because we weren’t really guard heavy at the time.”

After returning to the court, Hawkins wasn’t the same player as he was prior to the injury. He made just three of his first 14 shot attempts in the first nine games he played. 

Then the Louisville game happened.

The Kentucky-Louisville game is always one of the biggest games on the schedule both for the players and the fans. For a Kentucky native like Hawkins, it’s even more important. Hawkins came off the bench and shined against the rival Cardinals, playing every bit the way he looked in the preseason by knocking down three of his four 3-point attempts to highlight a career-high 13 points.

But then Hawkins suffered a high ankle sprain the very next game, Kentucky’s Southeastern Conference opener against Ole Miss, after just three minutes of action.

“I never had a big-time injury like that,” Hawkins said. “I always sprained my ankle or something little and be back in one week. I had a high sprained ankle and they said five weeks. I was like, ‘There’s no way. I can come back in two weeks.’ I probably rushed it a little bit, but I’m glad that I was able to get the opportunity to still play.”

It was a season filled with what head coach John Calipari called “buzzard’s luck.”

“He’s been unlucky with some injuries when he had his chance and all of a sudden he gets hurt,” Calipari said. “So let’s hope he stays healthy.”

Hawkins enters his senior year with redemption on his mind and in his eyes. He’s healthy again and feeling great about his game. In practice he’s facing some of the fastest players he will face all season with freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk putting his defensive prowess to the test. 

“Being able to guard people like that is making me better, and also making them better as an offensive player,” Hawkins said in regards to the freshmen duo. “As we play pickup games each and every day, everybody is getting even better I feel like, and we learn more about each other, on the court and off the court.”

And while Fox and Monk may be coming to Kentucky as two of the highest rated guards in the country, Calipari does not want Hawkins to concede an inch to either of them. 

“Dom should be mentally ahead of these guys,” Coach Cal said. “Now, maybe physically, maybe their basketball skill, some of these guys, may be a little bit better than him. But mentally, physically, no. No, they shouldn’t be.”

With that in mind, Hawkins will also be entering this redemptive season with a chip on his shoulder. He has shown flashes of his potential in the past. As a freshman he was inserted into UK’s rotation during its improbable NCAA Tournament run, earning particular praise for his defensive work against Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas in the Elite Eight. As a junior he was building a buzz in the preseason and then shined against Louisville before injuries quickly followed both instances.

“Definitely have to play with a chip on my shoulder because I know the guys coming in are great,” Hawkins said. “I have to play with these guys and prove that I can play with them. In practice I’m showing Coach Cal I’m probably as good as these guys, if not better. I know I have to have fight for playing time and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Hawkins worked hard on his shooting during the offseason, saying he felt like his confidence dropped after the high ankle sprain from the Ole Miss game at the start of the conference schedule. 

Over the summer he traveled to China in conjunction with Reach USA where he played with eight other student-athletes from schools around the country. Being the only player from a power-five conference, Hawkins was relied upon as a leader and averaged 8.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.6 steals per game.

More of a quiet guy on the floor, Hawkins enjoys leading by example. Back on campus working with the newcomers, he’s worked with the freshmen to show them the importance of defense, among other things.

“I feel like the biggest strengths I can bring is probably defense and leadership,” Hawkins said. “Being a defensive player – at Kentucky I’ve been known as a great defensive player. I’ve guarded tremendous players since I’ve been here. I just need to let the other guys like the freshmen know that defense is key to win games. I remember my sophomore year when we were going undefeated our defense was incredible. That’s what got us there.”

Hawkins enters his final year having played in a team-high 83 games. He knows more consistent performances in games and practice will lead to more consistent minutes. With his health back and demonstrated performances in his past, he believes his final year can be his best.

“My confidence I feel like is sky high right now,” Hawkins said. “I’ve been in the gym a lot. I’ve been shooting the ball well, getting to the rack and shooting floaters. That’s probably when I’m at my best. And I’ve been playing great defense on these guys. Hopefully it will carry on into the season.”