Derek Willis is a native Kentuckian and had his choice of attending either of the Commonwealth's top two universities. John Calipari and Rick Pitino both were hot on Willis' trail after he decided not to honor his commitment to Matt Painter and Purdue.
Cal and coach P both attended a game at Butler High School in Louisville when Willis' Bullit East team was there to play against the Butler Bears. Of course, there were pictures taken of the two high profile coaches and there were over-analyzed debates about what the coaches may or may not have said to each other. But none of that really mattered as Willis was the reason for their visit, not to get the Internet blogosphere all in a titter.
Willis was a Louisville fan growing up and both of his parents are Louisville fans as well. But despite his early allegiance to the Cardinals, Willis spurned Pitino and became a Wildcat.
Now after a lifetime of wearing red, Willis is set to shine in the Big Blue.
Willis is a versatile power forward that moves well with and without the basketball. What he lacks in strength he makes up for in finesse moves around the basket.
He played in the Derby City Classic all-star game in Louisville and had an impressive showing with six points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench.
Derek will have a lot to prove at Kentucky as he is part of possibly the greatest recruiting class of all time. But this is why he came to Kentucky. He wanted to be challenged and he wanted to play with the best in the country; and if that is the case then Lexington is the place to be.
Height - 6'8
Weight - 190
Position - Power Forward
Recruiting Break Down*- #25 Power Forward; #115 player overall (according to Rivals)
Willis is a much better outside shooter than many players at his position. He has the ability to step out on the wing and knock down jump shots. He is crafty around the rim and is deceptively quick, especially when running the full length of the basketball court. Willis is also very good at handling the basketball and his passing ability is underrated. He is a good defender with long arms and can lay down a nasty dunk with ease.
There is much improvement needed for Derek in the strength department. Willis is undersized as a D-1 college power forward. His main goal this season should be to improve at practice and to hit the weight room as much as possible. Battling everyday with Alex Poythress and Julius Randle will give him an idea about what it takes to play his position at the highest level.
Coach Calipari On Willis:
"Derek is a very skilled, 6-9 big man who is learning to play through bumps, which is going to elevate his game. He's a long-armed basketball player who can get his hands on balls and really pass. Like Marcus (Lee), he has a tremendous upside because he's going to get stronger and be able to play more physical and really use his size and his shot-making ability to spread the court for us."
Derek Willis understands that playing time is going to be almost impossible to come by this season. The Wildcats are loaded with big men as Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Randle, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee will see the lion's share of minutes in the post.
But this isn't going to deter Willis. He stated emphatically, "I didn't go there to start, or I would have stayed committed to Purdue, and I could have been the man. I went (to UK) to win. So if I don't start, if I don't play at all, I don't care. We're winning."
This is the type of attitude that will ultimately make Willis a success story at Kentucky. He is willing to put in the work to get better and has a team first attitude.
He has been a bit of a surprise in the early practices and is more athletic than many think.
Willis will have his chance in the future. This season, it's all about learning and competing with the best of the best.
2012/2013 Recruit Mix Tape:
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