Kentucky Basketball Recruiting: Derek Willis Drops Down the Rankings

It is hard to put into words just how remarkable John Calipari's recruiting run has been at Kentucky. But here are some fun facts to help put things into perspective.

In four years of recruiting (2009 to 2012), Calipari has signed 18 high school recruits (number does not include junior college recruits Eloy Vargas and Darnell Dodson). All 18 recruits were ranked in the RSCI Final Top 100. Fourteen were ranked in the top 30 (rough cutoff for five-stars), and ten in the top 10 overall. Just two prospects fall outside the Top 50, and both were in 2009: Eric Bledsoe at 52 (because two services foolishly failed to rank him), and Jon Hood at 64.

Currently, Kentucky has just one recruit in the 2013 class: Bluegrass native Derek Willis (Bullitt East / Mt. Washington, KY). Willis has been a staple of the recruiting scene since committing to Purdue in April 2011. After some time to think it over, Willis decommitted from the Boilermakers in fall 2011 and committed to Kentucky this past January. At the time, Willis was a high four-star recruit, ranking comfortably in the Top 50 by major recruiting services.

Yet in the latest iteration by the ranking services, Willis took a huge tumble. Scout dropped him from 30 to 91, while ESPN dropped him out of the top 100 from 35. Rivals, whose rankings are skeptical since lead analyst Jerry Meyer left, still has him 26th.

Will the in-state Willis become Calipari's first non-Top 100 Kentucky recruit? And why the drop in the rankings to begin with?

On the latter, the consensus seems to be that Willis struggled on the national AAU scene, particularly at adidas' Las Vegas VIP Exclusive Run. National AAU tournaments are a boon for recruiting analysts. They relish the opportunity to see players play with and compete against top tier talent. In contrast, high school seasons are oft filled with unwatchable games, stocked with players who will likely never play on a college basketball court. To wit: Willis was named the Herald-Leader's Player of the Year in April, and just tabbed the Non-Louisville/Lexington MVP by the Courier-Journal.

On the former, it is definitely a possibility. As just discussed, Willis will have plenty of opportunity to prove his mettle playing his senior season at Bullitt East, but will it might not be enough to raise scouts' eyebrows. And that may not be such a bad thing for Kentucky. Note that I don't mean to take a potshot at Kentucky hoops--which features some very good players like Darryl Hicks (Trinity), Quintin Snider (Ballard), and D'Angelo Russell (formerly Central, now at Montverde Academy). It's just the way it is.

None of Calipari's past recruits, save for Jon Hood (who, it should be noted, was recruited by Billy Gillispie), have stuck around past their sophomore seasons (though Kyle Wiltjer still could do so). Most left for the NBA because they had experienced unmitigated collegiate success, but it is important to remember those successes were buoyed by upperclassmen who stuck around and got better, from heralded five-star Patrick Patterson to Josh Harrellson, a junior college transfer no one thought was destined for the NBA.

If Calipari is going to turn Kentucky into a "Dynasty La Familia," he's going to need to hit on some role players as well as stars. The hope is that local kid Hood follows in Darius Miller's footsteps, and that one day, we hope to say the same words about Derek Willis.

Or maybe we will just throw all this out the window and scoff at the scouts when Willis turns out to be much, much better than advertised. Either scenario works for me.

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