Vaught's Views: Hawkins loves Keightley

January 30, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - When Cliff Hawkins leaves the Kentucky bench before a game, he always follows the same routine.

The UK senior point guard makes sure he walks over to veteran equipment manager Bill Keightley and hugs him. Some games he also whispers a few words to Keightley, who has been on the UK bench since the 1961-62 season.

"I don't remember the first time I did that, but now I do it every game," said Hawkins. "All I know is that next year I will be gone, and I am going to miss him.

"He's one of those guys when you feel down and out, you can go to him and he makes you smile and laugh. I just love him to death for that reason. We've had some great talks during my career here. No matter what happens, Mr. Keightley will make you laugh and smile. I love him."


Keightley, known as "Mr. Wildcat" for his years of service to Kentucky, always avoids naming favorite players. However, he won't deny his affection for Hawkins.

"Cliff never complains no matter what happens," Keightley said. "He's one of the best competitors I've ever seen."

Hawkins marvels that Keightley can "move around" the way he does considering he's 77 years old.

"He might look old, but in the heart he is still a kid," Hawkins said. "You can't do anything but admire him. He's the first one to the gym and the last one to leave. I've never seen a day when he's down.

"When I first met him, he made me feel warm and comfortable. I always had a good vibe with him. He's always positive no matter how you played. He's been through all types of games. It's like he's a player himself. He knows what we go through because he's seen it all."

Hawkins thinks Keightley is valuable in another key way, too, that few realize.

"I tell him that he is a recruiting advantage for Kentucky. As soon as guys come on visits, they all make sure they meet Mr. Keightley and once you meet him, you love him," Hawkins said.

Hawkins has received lots of "love" of late

Hawkins has gotten plenty of "love" in UK's last three games. He hit a 3-point shot at Tennessee that forced overtime and enabled the Wildcats to escape with a win. Even Hawkins was surprised at how high he jumped and how much confidence he seemed to have when he watched a replay of the shot on ESPN's SportsCenter.

At Notre Dame, he had just one point and four assists, but he also helped harass Notre Dame's Chris Thomas into 7-for-20 shooting from the field. Against Mississippi Wednesday, he had eight assists, five points, two steals and just one turnover in 33 minutes of play.

"I am one of those guys who can take the heat," Hawkins said. "I really don't care whether most people love or hate me. I can deal with pressure and criticism. I am not afraid of failure. I am going to give it all I've got.

"All the guys on the team know where my heart is. I am all about the team, not me, and winning. As long as they understand that and know that, I really don't care what everybody else has to say."

Hawkins has been saying more to teammates - something this team probably needed - than he did last year when the Cats went on a 26-0 game win streak and swept 19 straight Southeastern Conference games.

"If I am talking and more into the game, it will help the team and myself," Hawkins said. "I am trying to be aware of everything that is going on. We have chemistry, but not total chemistry like last year when we were on such a roll that you really didn't have to say much."

Hawkins also has not given up on Kentucky, which is 14-2 and ranked fifth going into Saturday's game at Vanderbilt, making a national title run again.

"I am still really kind of excited about this team," Hawkins said. "We really haven't played up to our full potential yet. There is still room to get better. Different games we've done some things well and others poorly. The things we are not doing well can be fixed and corrected. That's the good part.

"We have not played our best basketball yet. Pretty soon all the pieces might come together, and we might go on a late run. It might be better to reach our peak late rather than early because that's when it really counts."

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