In the offseason, Kentucky freshman Dominique Hawkins might as well have been invisible for all of the notice he received. Now that the season has begun, he could turn out to be a crucial member of a championship team.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats are very much in the national title picture, thanks to a fabled freshmen class that features six McDonald’s All-Americans. Hawkins is one of the few players without that pedigree to get a scholarship from John Calipari, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have big-time contributions to make in Lexington.
Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky as a high school senior, Hawkins is a 6’0” point guard who brings a quicker, higher energy style than smooth starter Andrew Harrison. He’s not going to wow you as a long-range shooter, but he’s a hard-working defender and a solid playmaker.
In other words, he’s a capable backup point guard, something Kentucky has rarely enjoyed under Calipari. As amazing as Coach Cal’s string of one-and-done starters has been, depth at that crucial position has consistently been lacking.
With Hawkins providing a viable substitute, Kentucky is in a far better position to survive an occasional bad night from Harrison. In addition, it's a virtual guarantee that Harrison will have an easier time adapting to the length and physical rigors of the college schedule if he’s not forced to lead the SEC in minutes for want of a replacement.
SEC play will also bring meetings with high-pressure defenses from the likes of Florida and Arkansas. In those matchups, Harrison’s 6’6” height might make him more vulnerable to steals from smaller defenders.
Having Hawkins come in for a burst off the bench gives Kentucky a great option for defusing an opponent’s press. Alternatively, Calipari could go small(er) by playing the two point guards alongside each other, adding an extra ball-handler against an aggressive D.
Hawkins will also have the chance to make a huge contribution that won’t show up on any stat sheet. He’s in a unique position to help Harrison become a better player over the course of the season.
Having a rival in practice (who has some actual talent of his own) will do a lot more for the starter’s development than spending every day going against scout-teamers who pose no real challenge. As good as these freshmen are, they're still freshmen with a lot to learn about how to handle college level competition.
Hawkins himself is unlikely ever to be a starter at Kentucky—next year’s presumptive PG is incoming freshman Tyler Ulis—or to make a splash in the NBA. If Kentucky cuts down the nets in April, though, he’ll deserve far more credit than he’ll get for having given this backcourt a postseason edge.