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Ashley Scoby: Opportunity knocks, Hawkins answers, but Willis still finds himself in limbo


Dominique Hawkins got a surprise start against Missouri, but despite Kentucky's dominating win, John Calipari didn't commit to the same lineup for Saturday's game at Alabama (UK Athletics Photo)

Dominique Hawkins got a surprise start against Missouri, but despite Kentucky’s dominating win, John Calipari didn’t commit to the same lineup for Saturday’s game at Alabama (UK Athletics Photo)

 

Dominque Hawkins’ smile on Tuesday night was about as wide as Willie Cauley-Stein’s wingspan.
 

The sophomore guard from Richmond, Ky., had just had his third career start against Missouri – an 86-37 Kentucky win. It was also the first time Hawkins had played a single minute since the game against UCLA on Dec. 20. His minutes have been sparing all year, as he was one of the odd men out of head coach John Calipari’s original 10-man platoon system.
 

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Then, of course, Alex Poythress went down with a torn ACL, which threw a kink into that five-for-five rotation pattern.
 

Kentucky took a couple of games away from the system, instead playing a nine-man rotation with platoon-like substitutions.
 

Fast forward to Sunday night, when Hawkins sat down at a team meeting and learned he would be getting the start on Tuesday night, filling the hole in the “Blue” squad left by Poythress.
 

The same smile flashed across his face, and “my jaw dropped,” Hawkins said.
 

He picked up the phone that night and called his “best friend” – his mom – to tell her the news. And then he went to work – “then the next day it actually hit me that I was starting and I needed to prepare for it,” he said.
 

Derek Willis' playing time remains limited despite a return to the 10-man platoon (UK Athletics Photo)

Derek Willis’ playing time remains limited despite a return to the 10-man platoon (UK Athletics Photo)

“After the last game, I just said I’m going back to 10,” Calipari said. “Then the question became, would it be Derek (Willis) or Dominique? Dominique had played better in practice and he deserved the opportunity.”
 

Hawkins went out against the Tigers and put together a stat line that included six points, three assists, two steals, a rebound and a block. He ran down loose balls and got in Missouri guard’s Keith Shamburger face defensively.
 

At one moment early in the first half, Hawkins cornered a ball that was bouncing out of bounds under the basket and then tossed it back through traffic for an assist to Cauley-Stein, who converted on a dunk.
 

“He brings so much energy and so much athleticism and we are all excited for him,” said Aaron Harrison of Hawkins. “I have seen him get a lot better over these past couple years and I’m proud of him.”
 

Of course, Wills, meanwhile, is still waiting to see his first significant minutes of the season. He has played a total of 54 minutes through eight games. And even when Kentucky held a 40-point lead with five minutes remaining on Tuesday, Willis didn’t check into the game until a minute and a half remained, when Calipari’s “third platoon” (Willis, Brian Long, Tod Lanter, Sam Malone and EJ Floreal) entered.
 

Willis promptly nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key.
 

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And although Willis has hit 7 of his 15 shots this season, it’s still a mystery of whether he will see any significant time this season unless somebody else goes down with an injury.
 

Hawkins, even with his hustle and newfound confidence on the offensive end, is most valuable because of his defense. Yet that’s still not enough to make Calipari commit to the same lineup the next time Kentucky takes the court Saturday at Alabama.
 

“I just didn’t want to have two smaller guys on the same team,” Calipari said. “And, it did another thing: It let Dominique play the ball. So now you always have pressure on the point guard. Dominique or Tyler (Ulis). I don’t know if I’ll do it next game. I may not.”
 
 

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.


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