Dominique Hawkins, last year's "Mr. Basketball" in the Bluegrass State, was the second player off the bench for UK against the Colonials and logged a career-high 18 minutes. The 6-foot guard contributed the first four points of his Wildcat career, dished out three assists and played impressive on-ball defense that appears to have won his coach over.
"Everything he's doing now, he does in practice," UK head coach John Calipari said. "The kid works so hard. He pushes so hard that you saw when he went in the game how he guarded the ball. He just goes up and he adds energy to the game."
The UK boss wasn't the only one who took notice. Watching the Wildcats play on TV, former standout Doron Lamb, now with the Orlando Magic, wrote "Who #25?" on the Twitter social networking site, apparently impressed with Hawkins' play.
Hawkins' performance included an eye-popping blocked shot that brought the crowd of 21,600 fans at Rupp Arena to its feet. The volleyball-like spike is something Kentucky fans are accustomed to seeing from their 7-footers when opposing guards challenge them in the paint, but as the shortest scholarship player on the UK roster, Hawkins is not exactly known for that ability.
"I'm going to say No. 1, just off that block right there," Hawkins joked when asked to rank himself among the Wildcats' many shot-blocking players. "That gave me a lot of confidence in blocking."
Hawkins was thrown in for just five minutes during last Tuesday's contest against No. 2 Michigan State. And admittedly, the Richmond, Ky., native was fighting his own nerves when the bright lights of Champions Classic were beating down at the United Center.
"I definitely feel more comfortable. In the Michigan State game, I was little bit surprised that I got in, to be honest," Hawkins said. "This game I was a lot more comfortable because I knew I was going to get some minutes. I was able to play the way that I wanted to play, and the way I played was great tonight."
Hawkins came into the season with an understanding that he is a member of arguably the most talented team in college basketball, but he knows that being pegged as an "energy guy" will earn him the minutes he is seeking during his freshman campaign.
"I wasn't really recruited high like all the other guys were, so basically I have to push them and let them know that I'm able to play with them," Hawkins said. "So I just go my hardest in practice every time."
It became clear that John Calipari has a willingness to rotate players in and out of the game when he made 29 first-half substitutions allowing 10 different players to see the floor. Freshman center Marcus Lee was the first Wildcat to be replaced after botching a play on the opening possession of the game.
"He emphasizes that a lot. If you aren't doing something right, we have someone who will," Lee said. "That puts things in perspective that we have to do things right, full speed all the time, especially in practice."
One player who seemed to be on a roller coaster ride with coach Calipari's newfound substitution method was freshman point guard Andrew Harrison.
Despite scoring eight points and grabbing an impressive eight rebounds for a point guard, Harrison found himself getting the brunt of Calipari's antics on the sidelines.
"Andrew got better today, (but) still doesn't have it," Calipari said. "We're not on the same page yet."
Insert none other than Hawkins to fill the void.
"You saw how hard he runs the court, so we could throw to him, so we could throw lobs, so we could throw to the post," Calipari said of Hawkins. "I'm not afraid to go to him. I'm just not. I think he's a pretty good player. He's good for our team."