BY LARRY VAUGHT
Seniors Derek Willis and Dominique are both rare four-year players under John Calipari, especially when one considers they were both Kentucky high school stars.
Their final home game will be Tuesday when Kentucky hosts Vanderbilt for the traditional senior sendoff that will also include Mychal Mulder, a two-year player.
Kentucky fans have certainly enjoyed watching Hawkins and Willis play despite the ups and downs both have had for various reasons. They have also enjoyed being at UK together.
“Derek has definitely been my best friend on this team for four years and playing with him has been unbelievable,” Hawkins said. “We have both seen our bads and our goods while we have been here. Derek is a tremendous player and I love playing with him. It’s going to be hard leaving him. It’s just great to play with somebody like that.
“He’s a great guy. He’s kind of a little shy guy. You gotta get to know him, but he loves giving back to kids, going to hospitals and visiting them. People don’t realize that about Derek, he’s such a great guy.”
Willis feels the same way about Hawkins. He calls him a “great” teammate, roommate and friend.
“He is one of the greatest kids I have ever met, and I don’t really say that about a lot of people. Just a good dude,” Willis said. “That will be one thing I will really miss when this is over. I will miss being around him and playing with him.”
Their girlfriends never miss a home game and have seen what playing at UK means to both of them. They also hope UK fans understand how proud both players have been to be part of Kentucky’s team.
“I hope the fans remember Dominique’s passion and dedication. He loves this school and he loves this team,” Emma Smith said. “He’s worked so hard the past four years and it shows. You never hear anything negative about Dominique, and there’s a reason for that.
“He is such a well-rounded man and it’s obvious anywhere he goes. Whether he’s in an interview, talking to a fan, or on the court, his passion is apparent. And not to mention that smile of his! I think everyone will remember how his smile and laugh can bring light to any room that he’s in.”
Willis’ girlfriend, Keely Potts, normally wears a Kentucky jersey with his number and name to games. Smith and Potts are having special T-shirts made for the senior game with pictures of Hawkins and Willis together on them. Both girls also expect to cry during the pregame ceremony.
“I hope all Kentucky fans remember that he truly played the game for them,” Potts said. “He values everything this program, the university, and these fans have to offer, and I hope they know how much this opportunity has meant to him.”
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