As expected by the Internet, 2013 power forward Derek Willis committed to the University of Kentucky at a press conference from his high school, Bullitt East. Willis is an area product from Mt. Washington, Kentucky. He's a highly regarded prospect in the class of 2013, ranking as a high four star: 33rd overall by Scout, 23rd by Rivals, and 42nd by ESPNU.
Willis committed to Purdue University last spring, but decommitted in August. Since then, he's taken multiple unofficial visits to area schools, including attending the Kentucky vs. Louisville game in Rupp Arena on December 31. Willis had narrowed down his list of finalists to Indiana, Louisville, and Purdue, along with Kentucky.
Almost immediately after Willis' decommitment, many recruitniks speculated that he would end up at Indiana or Louisville, the two schools in which he was showing the most interest. However, when Willis announced he was going commit last Monday, all the signs pointed to Kentucky. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino even said as much. When asked if he was expecting good news, Pitino responded, "not at all."
The commitment from Willis is an unexpected, but welcome, surprise for Kentucky fans. To begin, Willis becomes the first Kentucky high school player to commit during the John Calipari era. Current Kentuckians Darius Miller and Jon Hood were both recruited by ex-head coach Billy Gillispie.
More importantly, Calipari has been notorious in choosing to wait until a prospect's senior year prior to receiving a commitment, the two notable exceptions while in Lexington being Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. Both Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague committed in April of their junior years.
It's been years, if at all, since Calipari has received a commitment as early as Willis' (January of his junior year). The amazing thing is, Calipari may not be done this spring. 2013 small forward Troy Williams, a highly regarded prospect from Phoebus, Virginia, has reportedly narrowed his list down to two heavy favorites, Kentucky and North Carolina, and tentatively plans to announce in May.
Meanwhile, Calipari isn't even done recruiting his 2012 class. The Wildcats are looking for additional help in the frontcourt, most recently offering 2012 power forward Tony Parker. With one additional frontcourt commitment in the class of 2012 likely, Kentucky looks like they will be adding Willis to a position of strength. Current Wildcat Kyle Wiltjer and signee Willie Cauley will both likely be on the roster in the 2013-14 season.
As for Willis, he's an offensively skilled power forward that (surprise, surprise) should look like a "fish in the water" in Kentucky's Dribble-Drive Motion Offense. He's an offensive threat both in the post and from the perimeter. If that sounds exactly like Terrence Jones, Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and future Wildcat Alex Poythress, it dang well should. Willis believes it too: in his press conference, he said, "Kentucky is just the best fit for me, and that's why I chose them."
Willis' length, propensity to shoot the 3, and ambling dribbles upcourt draw immediate comparisons to Kyle Wiltjer. However, Willis as a junior in high school looks broader than Wiltjer did. Willis is listed at 6'9", 210 lbs by ESPNU (but 190 lbs by Rivals) and will likely bulk up further by the time he enrolls in 2013. As such, Willis looks more comfortable in the paint, and will theoretically go into college as at least an average rebounder and defender. Taking it old school some, Willis may very well be the next Scott Padgett.
Join me in offering a hearty congratulations to Derek Willis on his decision to become a future member of Big Blue Nation!
For some highlights of the future Wildcat, check out the YouTube video below.