Hawkins can provide 'fire' at the point

November 02, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Cliff Hawkins brought a special intensity with him when he came to the Kentucky.

"He came in with a chip on his shoulder. He had a little fire and vinegar in him, which can be a good thing," said Kentucky assistant coach David Hobbs. "You want somebody with a little fire at point guard. The players like that and respect that."

Hawkins did even more last year to gain his teammates' respect. He was academically ineligible the first semester. Some wondered if he might transfer rather than get his grades in order, return to the team the second semester, and likely not have a starting spot.

"I never thought seriously about leaving," Hawkins said.

Instead, he stayed, became one of the nation's best sixth men, and helped UK win the Southeastern Conference championship, climb to No. 1 in the national rankings and reach the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region final.


"When he came back, he very well could have started," Hobbs said. "But he provided such a spark off the bench. Not many teams can go to a guy off the bench who takes them up another level. That doesn't mean he had to accept that role, but he did and that's one reason we had the success last year we did.

"It's harder to accept a secondary role than a starring role. But he did and as a byproduct of that, he gained a lot of respect from others. He's a guy that has really grown here. His work habits are better, his conditioning is better, his outlook is better. He accepts coaching better.

"He's not a real vocal guy all the time. He's a guy more of action than words, but at the same time he has to be a leader on this team because the other guys look up to him."

Hawkins wants his senior season to be special. He also wants to be in the starting lineup this year when Kentucky starts play Nov. 21 against Winthrop.

"I want to start. Nothing less than that is acceptable this year. I played my role last year because that's what the team needed, but I consider myself a starter now," Hawkins said. "I've always been a guy that can get along with people. I'm vocal, just not always out in the open where fans and the media can see me. I want to help lead this team."

Hawkins averaged 6.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last year while playing 29.1 minutes per game. He shot 41.2 percent from the field, but made dramatic improvement in his 3-point and free throw shooting. He shot 38.1 percent from 3-point range - compared to 23.1 and 31.1 percent the two previous years - and 74.7 percent at the foul line - compared to 59.4 and 60.5 the previous two seasons.

"I would just say that I had an average year last year," Hawkins said. "I had my moments when I was on top of my game and moments when I stunk. That's why I would say I was only average.

"Not everybody realizes I wasn't even a point guard until my senior year of high school. I am still learning things about playing point guard every day. I was always a guy that could do a little bit of everything from playing defense to rebounding to attacking the basket to passing."

That versatility is what makes Hawkins so important to the Wildcats. He can lead a fast break, shut down an opponent's point guard or drive to the basket to score.

"The point guard has to sacrifice more of his game than anyone else," Hobbs said. "At the point, you have to get the team into the offense, guard the fastest guy on the other team, fall back and pass. He can do all that and is willing to do all that, which demands respect.

"Whether he wants to be a leader or not, other players on the team look at him as a leader.."

Sophomore Kelenna Azubuike has no doubts that Hawkins will be a successful team leader. "He's going to play a big role on this team. He's been around and knows all the little tricks of the game," Azubuike said.

His biggest role might be in helping the young guys out. If you make a mistake, he'll correct you. He's not afraid to do that.

"The point guard is an extension of the coach on the court. Cliff is a positive leader. The better leader he is, the better it will be for our team because he's the guy who is going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Personally, I think he's capable of being a great leader."

Hawkins wants to be a "great leader" whether that means sparking UK with his suffocating defense or leading a fast break with his tremendous quickness.

"It's not always the most talented team that wins. Sometimes it is the team that is more aggressive and wants to win more," Hawkins said. "I want to be more consistent with my game and help make sure that we take care of business.

"It's my job to make sure everybody understands his role and fills it. We have some talented young players that I think I can help. I don't want to say this is my team, but I do want to be the guy this team looks to, especially when the game is on the line."

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