What's up guys? Long time, no see. It feels like months (probably because it's been that long) since I've had the chance to post but I figured I'd give you guys a quick recap on what I've been up to and what I've learned about UK head coach John Calipari's two Kentucky High School recruits.
This summer I've been working with the Lexington Herald-Leader sports staff on an internship basis. I've had the chance to write features about the Lexington Legends and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried. But I've spent the bulk of my time around UK recruits Dominique Hawkins and while covering the Kentucky/Indiana All-Star series.
Which brings me to what I'd like to look at: recruiting profiles of two of UK's latest in-state recruits.
Dominique Hawkins, point guard
Height: 6'1 - Weight: 170
The height/weight measurements are from Rivals.com and I have to say that I'd be willing to bet that Hawkins is probably bigger than 170 pounds. If, by chance, he actually is 170 then I'll be shocked. And even then, he's much stronger than that number would suggest.
I first met Hawkins at the Kentucky All-Star's second practice. It was a Sunday and the team was returning to the gym from a restaurant they went to where they ate dinner. (I'm not sure how anyone runs 5-on-5 after a steak meal but that's another issue). Hawkins, along with Willis, were on the first bus to the gym. The Kentucky All-Star coach, Allen Feldhaus Jr., introduced me to the players and told them that I was with the Herald-Leader and would like to talk with them when they got a chance.
Hawkins met me half way with a smile and a firm hand-shake. He kept calling me sir. I'm only 21-years-old so having an 18-year-old dude calling me "sir" felt a little weird, but that's a testament to Hawkins manners. He carries himself with maturity beyond his years as Kentucky's Mr. Basketball should, and it's really a joy to watch.
I was working on a video series for the Herald-Leader. I thought filming an interview would be a great learning experience and would do really well analytically on the site. People love hearing from recruits. They'd rather listen to the recruits talk then read anything I write. The camera could face the back of a recruit's head while he murmurs gibberish from War And Peace and it would get more views than anything I'll ever write. That's the polarity of recruiting.
While I was filming, Hawkins took a step forward and the camera cut his head out of the frame so the film that I gathered could never be uploaded. Oh well. You win some; you lose some. In this case, even in losing, I still won. The "win" was listening to Hawkins' authenticity. I asked him something along the lines of "What do you want to bring to UK the minute you step on campus?" He replied (something like) "I just want to be a respectable young man that everyone can love and root for." BOOM. That's how Hawkins became my favorite Wildcat before he ever logged a minute of court time.
The interview went on, I left, and the next time I saw Hawkins was a few days later at scrimmage against the Junior All-Star game. Two days after that, I saw him against the Indiana All-Stars at Freedom Hall. A few things stand out the minute you watch him play, and one is that he's fantastic at finishing. I alluded to his strength earlier, but he really uses his body well when attacking the rim. Hawkins looks very comfortable finishing with either hand. He can absorb contact and have enough body control to finish layups in traffic against guys much bigger than him. His handle isn't the tightest, but it's viable and it'll only get better as he continues to compete against college competition.
Hawkins told me in that interview that he thought the strongest part of his game was driving and kicking to open shooters. And that's exactly what he does. When he attacks the lane, he does so with the intentions of finding and open man. That type of attack/dish combo will fit in well with Calipari's "dribble-drive" offense.
The defensive side looks to be where Hawkins can come in and play immediately. He has long arms and he's slippery enough to slide across on-ball screens, and he's strong enough to fight through picks from guys twice his size. His hands are active and he looks active on and off the ball.
Hawkins is going to be a crowd favorite for his entire Wildcat career from the moment he steps on campus. He told me that he wanted to be a respectable guy that everyone could love and root for, and in one week of evaluating him, I already respect him. And it's going to be a joy to root for him.
Derek Willis, forward
Height: 6'8 - Weight: 190
Rivals doesn't show advanced player measurements. By that I mean, it doesn't tell you a guy's wingspan or his standing reach. But if they did, I'd imagine that Willis' numbers would be off the charts. Really. His go-go gadget arms are really something to look at. They aren't Tayshaun Prince arms but they aren't far off.
When you think about Willis, you have to remember this: he committed so long ago that it's easy to forget him. He was the first in-state recruit that Calipari was able to snag during his UK tenure. With the amount of talent ahead of him on the roster this year, he'll probably be forgotten for even longer. But my advice: keep him in the back of your mind.
Willis wasn't as comfortable in front of a camera as Hawkins was but he did lighten up when we started talking basketball. It's obvious when you look at Willis what he needs to improve: his body. He's rail thin right now. But he told me that he's eating a lot more at meals and -- from a couple other people I talked to -- I can tell you that his appetite really is never ending. It's a long-term process but I'd look for Willis to add somewhere around 20 pounds during his time at UK. That's going to help the former Bullitt East forward more than anything.
What's most impressive about Willis' game is his diverse, if not strange, range of skills. By strange, I mean that it's a weird combination of skills. Offensively, he's polished. He has the ability to grab a rebound on the defensive end and bring the ball up if he needs to. He has great range on his jump shot and his release is extremely quick from the perimeter. When he gets going, he can knock down three or four 3-pointers in a row down in the middle of a game.
A surprising part of his game is his great finishing ability inside. Sure he can rise up for dunk if there's an open basket, but his ability to finish in traffic is impressive. He can finish with either hand and do so efficiently. His long arms probably play a big part in that ability. He's so long that it's tough to contest his shot when he's at the peak of his jump.
However, his shooting isn't only limited to the 3-point line and right at the basket. Willis has a really nice mid-range game in his arsenal. He has a soft touch on his turn around jumper and seems comfortable taking that shot. He told me that he's worked on his game inside the perimeter and it really showed. He looks like someone who can come in and blow up a 2-3 zone by being able to flash to the free-throw line for an elbow jumper. And it doesn't hurt that he has to be respected at the 3-point line as well.
His great length and decent instincts make him a threat on the defensive end where he can block shots from the weak side. He's not going to be very good at defending the post in one-on-one situations until he adds more strength but he's rangy enough to block shots off the ball. There will be questions for him defensively: can he guard the post one-on-one? Can he hedge pick-and-rolls AND have the foot speed to recover to his man? That'll have to be answered in time.
Hope this helps.