MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Dominique Hawkins, usually smiling, sat and stared straight ahead in Kentucky’s postgame locker room. Mychal Mulder folded his hands together and looked down. Derek Willis sat against a wall, his head half-shrouded with a towel.
Kentucky’s trio of seniors had their college careers end in heartbreak as North Carolina slipped past the Wildcats, 75-73, in an Elite Eight matchup on Sunday night.
Hawkins and Willis played key roles for the Wildcats down the stretch of the season, and both played more than 20 minutes in the loss to North Carolina. Mulder chipped in for 6 minutes on Sunday.
“I’m really proud of what Dom and Derek were able to do the last four years, something really special that not a lot of people do,” Mulder said after the game. “They were part of history and I’m really proud of that. I wish it would’ve ended up better for them. They deserve more than that. It means a lot to me. I’ll always love the game, love the school, love the state for what it was.”
While Mulder came to UK as a transfer, Hawkins and Willis were beloved for their Kentucky roots. Sunday represented the end of a four-year stretch for both.
“There’s not a lot of Kentucky kids playing for Kentucky,” Hawkins said. “It’s everybody’s dream. To be able to play for four years here has been a blessing for me.”
Willis was a starter for the Wildcats and Hawkins, a defensive stopper, was often the first man off the bench for John Calipari. Willis ended the season averaging 7 points per game with Hawkins and Mulder averaging 4.7.
Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox said the team came together in a hug following the loss. He shared memories of playing with the three seniors.
“What they went through — Mychal was only here two seasons, but what Dom and Derek went through, the many players that they played with. They just made us better,” Fox said. “Dom could start anywhere in the country. We always talk amongst us how good Dom is. Dom was killing us in the summer, he killed us in practice. He had that experience. He’s played guys that are in the NBA right now. Man, I’ll miss playing with those three.”
Hawkins was one of the few players still wearing his jersey in the locker room. He looked like he might wear it back to Lexington.
“I wish I could,” he said. “I’m not trying to take it off right now.”