At Kentucky, freshmen have dominated the starting lineup ever since John Calipari arrived in Lexington.
This season is no different with 3-4 freshmen starting every game this season. But what’s different about this team is there are several seniors also fighting for playing time.
Among them is fan-favorite Dominique Hawkins. The Madison Central product has been known as a scrappy defender for most of his career while occasionally knocking down a shot.
Defense has once again put Hawkins in a position to earn minutes, even with a UK team that’s running 10 deep at times. That’s reached a new level recently as Hawkins is getting starter’s minutes, including 26 in Wednesday night’s 87-62 win over Valparaiso.
"Without a doubt. He’s an unbelievable defender, he brings energy, pressures the ball full court, and he played great," Derek Willis said of Hawkins following the win. "He hit his 3’s tonight, made shots, and he overall played really well. There’s not much more you can say."
That included Hawkins help shut down Crusaders point guard Lexus Williams, who finished with just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, no assists and five turnovers, an effort Hawkins helped contribute to.
"Dom goes in and just changed the whole complexion because of how he defended on the ball and he kind of disrupted what they were doing offensively," John Calipari said after UK beat defeated Valparaiso. "Their point guard (Williams) got those two fouls right away, and then got a third because of how we played. He had to keep people off him."
However, it’s Hawkins’ offense that’s earning him more minutes than he’s ever had in his four-year career. Through nine games, Hawkins already has 26 assists after getting just 13 in 27 games last year.
And Hawkins appears to have finally found his stroke on the three-ball, knocking down four of his last eight attempts. He also is rarely hurting UK with just three turnovers in 162 minutes played thus far.
Calipari said Hawkins changes the complexion of the game with his defense. His response when told of the compliment pic.twitter.com/lF6HvD697n— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) December 8, 2016
"I know my role. I come in the game; I’m able to bring energy and if I’m open I take an open shot," Hawkins said after the game. "I just get in and just really start playing. I feel like I have more confidence than I ever did this year to be able to shoot the ball, so I’m going up and just letting it go."
All of this has helped Hawkins average 22.7 minutes per game over his last four contests, essentially making him the sixth man for a top-10 team and a Final Four contender.
And he’s earned it.