EDITOR’S NOTE: Four years and 121 games after earning a late scholarship offer from John Calipari and the University of Kentucky with a dazzling performance at Rupp Arena in the state tournament, Dominique Hawkins’ career with the Wildcats is over. He went to four NCAA Tournaments, three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and a national championship game.
After three seasons of scant minutes, Hawkins became one of Kentucky’s most important players as a senior. He scored 35 points and hit 7 3-pointers in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Now on his way out, the Richmond, Ky., native sat down with SEC Country’s Kyle Tucker to craft a letter to fans about what it has meant to be from this state and represent so many of its people while wearing blue and white.
Dear Big Blue Nation,
I can’t tell you how many times when I was a kid my mom yelled for me to quiet down upstairs, where I was pretending to be Tayshaun Prince — I even shot left-handed — hitting the game-winner for Kentucky on a Nerf hoop.
It was a glow-in-the-dark rim, too, so my friends and I kept the games going deep into the night. Then, whenever I finally fell asleep, I literally dreamed of playing for the Wildcats. But by my senior year in high school, that dream felt like it was slipping away.
I was in a battle with Derek Willis (my future roommate and best friend) for Mr. Basketball in Kentucky, but Coach Cal had his pick of the best players from all over the country. He signed six McDonald’s All-Americans that year. It would ultimately take a down season by the Cats for me to get my chance.
(I want to pause here for a quick thanks to Doc Palmer, who is responsible for this smile of mine that so many of you have noticed I can’t seem to put away. He’s also Coach Cal’s dentist, and I’m pretty sure Doc put a bug in his ear about me.)
Asked Dominique Hawkins the longest he's ever gone between smiles. "Probably 30 seconds." SMILE. pic.twitter.com/3t8AkBxDsk
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_SEC) February 20, 2017
With Kentucky losing in the first round of the 2013 NIT, Cal was back in Lexington during the state tournament at Rupp Arena. Every other year at that time, he’s been away at the NCAA Tournament, so what else would you call it but fate? I knew this was my one shot, and I took it.
With Coach Cal in the stands, my Madison Central teammates and I played our guts out. We won the state title and I won MVP of the Sweet 16. Soon after, Cal showed up at my high school and sat me down in the locker room to deliver big news: he was offering me a scholarship to Kentucky.
“Oh my God,” I remember telling him. “This is amazing.”
It was best day of my life. He gave me my dream that afternoon, and in return I spent the next four years giving this program every ounce of effort and passion that I have. As my Kentucky career wound down, especially around senior night, people kept asking me how I wanted to be remembered here, and it’s simple.
I was a hometown kid who cherished the chance to wear that uniform and who shared a special relationship with the fans. I knew if I played with energy, you would be behind me and that would give me even more energy. Once I heard the roar of the crowd, I wanted to put it all on the line for you.
When Derek wrote his own letter to the BBN, he described the feeling of playing at Rupp perfectly: It’s like a second heartbeat. I can’t say it better than that. It’s a feeling I’d never really felt before, the way sound rumbles through your chest.
You are the reason I loved diving for loose balls and making the kind of hustle plays that help win games, because you’re the smartest fans in the country and you go crazy for the little things. If it seemed like I never ran out of gas, it’s because you were my fuel.
There’s not going to be anything like that going forward in my life. There is no arena or fan base that compares to Rupp and the BBN, and I’m going to miss it.
My mom probably won’t — she hates loud noises — but even she felt special hearing the way fans supported me. My three little sisters and little brother think I’m famous because of you guys. I tell them, “No, I’m just your brother.” But on game days, it’s true that you all made me feel like something more.
If earning a scholarship to Kentucky was the best day of my life, standing on that stage in Nashville last month and finding out I’d made the SEC All-Tournament Team (after we won our third straight SEC Tournament) probably ranks second. To see that my teammates were so happy for me, to hear thousands of our fans chanting my name, was sort of surreal.
I keep thinking maybe I’ll wake up in my mom’s house and see that Nerf goal glowing in the dark and realize this has all been a dream. But that’s the thing: It absolutely has been. Thank you, BBN.
Dominique Hawkins, UK Class of 2017
P.S. In case you’re wondering what’s next: Soon, Derek and I will walk out of the Wildcat Lodge for the last time — graduation day is May 5 — and then it’s on to professional basketball. Whether it’s in the D-League or overseas, doesn’t matter, because I still have too much love left for this game. I plan to play until I can’t, so stay tuned.