June 12, 2014

China trip benefical on, off court for Hawkins

Dominique Hawkins satisfied his basketball appetite on a recent trip to China.

His palate was another story.

The Kentucky point guard averaged 9.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and two assists per game on a nine-game tour of the Far East with Sports Reach, a Christian sports ministry.

And though at times the UK sophomore-to-be stuffed the stat sheet -- he had a 27-point game against a Lithuanian team -- he rarely stuffed his face.

"The food there, I thought it was gonna be like Panda Express," Hawkins said at a news conference Thursday. "It just disappointed me."

So Hawkins found some dishes he could tolerate -- a mix of rice and eggs; some steak he thought was tasty, but undercooked -- and lived on a steady diet of those, with some American fast-food chains mixed in.

"I think I lost like 10 pounds, to be honest," Hawkins said.

What he gained might be more significant.

Hawkins proved a valuable defender -- he played critical stretches on Louisville's Russ Smith and Michigan's Nik Stauskas in NCAA Tournament wins -- but was an offensive non-factor, averaging 0.8 points in 8.6 minutes per game.

He shot 9 for 31 from the floor, including 2 for 16 from three-point range, with coach John Calipari often imploring him not to pass up open jumpers.

But in his 27-point game in China, Hawkins was 10 for 15 from the floor, making both of his three-point attempts. And he closed out the tour with back-to-back double-digit scoring games of 11 points against Athletas Lithuania and 14 against Atletis Lithuania.

"Anytime I was open I ended up shooting the ball, and that's definitely what the fans want me to do and that's what Coach Cal wants me to do too," Hawkins said. "I was way more aggressive on the offensive side when I was there. I was able to make good plays on defense as well."

That's an offseason confidence boost for a player who figures to have a fight on his hands for playing time. With starter Andrew Harrison returning for his sophomore season and McDonald's All-American Tyler Ulis joining the Wildcats as a freshman, UK will be packed at point guard, Hawkins' preferred position.

"I know what I'm capable of doing on offense and everybody that watched me in high school knows I'm capable of scoring the ball really well," said Hawkins, Kentucky's Mr. Basketball in 2013 as a senior at Madison Central High School. "It's just something I need to work on and just get in the gym more and get more shots."

He got those in China.

But the trip also had value away from the court.

The food was a downer, but Hawkins enjoyed other parts of his time in China, particularly visiting the Great Wall -- he wore a shirt depicting it to Thursday's news conference -- and climbing it despite a fear of heights.

"I was able to make it to the top," Hawkins said. "It just felt like -- I really don't have words to describe how I felt to be able to go to China and experience the Great Wall."

The trip had its share of culture shock. Hawkins was caught off guard that fans were allowed to smoke cigarettes in the stands at some of Sports Reach's games. And he had a new appreciation for his freedom each morning when he awoke and went to check Twitter, only to be reminded again that social-networking sites aren't permitted in China.

"It was really different," he said. "It was pretty cool, though, too."

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