LEXINGTON — University of Kentucky sophomore guard Dominique Hawkins said his recent 15-day trip to China with the Christian-based Sports Reach group was both “different” and “really cool, too.”
Hawkins and several other college basketball players played nine exhibition games against a mixed bag of competition (“a couple of the teams were top 25 caliber,” he said), while immersing themselves in Chinese culture.
While there, Hawkins survived the food (“Oh my gosh, I don’t even walk to talk about that,” he said), re-discovered aggressiveness in his offensive game, overcame his fear of heights and stood atop the Great Wall, and found fans not that different from what he sees in Kentucky.
First: The food. There are American chain restaurants in China, but Hawkins was a tad gun shy about those, in part, because he heard one of them may use cat as a meat.
“(But) I found something that I ate almost every day ... it was like rice and eggs,” Hawkins said. “There was some kind of steak they made, too, but they didn’t cook it all the way. All of us were trying to find something we knew we could eat and have confidence it wouldn’t make us sick.
“I thought,” Hawkins added, “it was going to be like Panda Express.”
Hawkins said he lost 10 pounds on the May 10-25 trip but has already gained most of it back.
Hawkins also said smoke is everywhere in China, and even the traffic is a nightmare, which is saying something given that he’s spent time on Nicholasville Road.
“Everywhere we went, the traffic was crazy, and there was smoke everywhere,” Hawkins said. “It was the weirdest thing ever, but fans were smoking cigarettes while we were playing. And I don’t think they have a smoking age. We’d walk around a mall and see 14-year-old kids smoking cigarettes.”
On the basketball court, Hawkins averaged 9.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and two assists per game, while playing alongside teammates from the likes of Murray State, Illinois, TCU and Texas Tech.
Hawkins’ efforts included a break-out 27 points in a win over Lithuania, and an 11-rebound night against another team from Lithuania.
“I feel like I did great,” said Hawkins, who was a defensive specialist this past winter in his first season as a Kentucky Wildcat. “When I was open, I shot the ball, and that’s definitely what the fans wanted me to do, and what Coach Cal (John Calipari) wants me to do. I was way more aggressive on the offensive end when I was there.”
Hawkins said he enjoyed the Chinese people, though their UK-like aggressiveness surprised him at first.
“I felt like I was in Kentucky because the people just rush up to you and say hello,” he said. “Most of them were pretty aggressive. They come up and grab you, and they don’t ask — they just want a picture — so they grab you and say ‘picture.’ But then they’d bow to you after you take the picture with them. That was pretty cool.”
When asked what he learned on the trip, Hawkins referred to the purpose of the Sports Reach group that invited him to take part.
“It definitely got me closer to God,” Hawkins said. “It lets me know that other people in the world live a different life, and I need to feel fortunate for what I have because they don’t get everything we have in the United States.”
A few of the things the Chinese don’t have, Hawkins noted, are Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Or at least that’s what they led him to believe.
But, Hawkins survived, and now looks forward to a second season at Kentucky, even though the return of those pesky Harrison twins promises to again limit his playing time.
Perhaps the most surprising part of Hawkins’ session with the media Thursday was his apparent enthusiasm that Andrew and Aaron Harrison are returning to UK for a second season.
“My reaction was like, ‘Yes!’” Hawkins said, smiling broadly and raising his arms above his head when asked about the Harrisons’ decision.
“I want to play a lot of minutes, but I feel like that takes a lot of pressure off of me,” he said. “I can just come in and play relaxed because they’re good leaders and great teammates, and the brotherhood is just so close.
“I feel like we have a special team, and we are trying to do something that we weren’t able to finish up last year.”