After showing flashes of greatness in his breakout 2015 season, Derek Willis is looking for more as he enters his senior season.
The rise of Derek was key to the Kentucky Wildcats sweeping the SEC and winning 27 games last season. UK wants more than that, and Willis is ready to give the Wildcats more as he returns for his senior season.
But that almost got derailed this offseason when Willis was arrested for public intoxication in Northern Kentucky. Police arrived to find Willis passed out on the ground outside the open driver's side door of a vehicle and reported a "strong odor of associated with alcohol" coming from inside said vehicle.
UK handled the matter with internal discipline, but it was still something Willis admits changed his outlook in a big way.
"I disappointed some people. I made a mistake," Willis said in August, via The Cats Pause. "It made me sit down and question, what's really important to you? Honestly, it was a good lesson. I don't know how else to put it."
There was a time in Willis' career that his dedication to basketball was questioned, not by his coaches or the fans, but by himself. That led Willis and head coach John Calipari having an up and down relationship.
Cal has been hard on Willis in public, particularly about his lack of effort on defense, and that isn't easy for anyone. But eventually, all of that helped spark the emergence of Willis, so much so that Sports Illustrated named him one of the ten most surprising players in the country last season.
As it turns out, the offseason arrest also helped Willis realize what he needed to prioritize more in his life.
"Basketball. College. Being the best student-athlete I can be," Willis said. "I just want to win a championship, whether I play or not. It's what our coaches deserve; it's what our fans deserve and the players who put in all the work."
Willis will need to continue his emergence and make significant improvements if the Wildcats are to reach their ultimate goal in Banner No. 9.
"I'm in better condition now," Willis said. "Our strength guy, Rob Harris, helped me put on a lot of weight. I'm 15 pounds heavier, sitting at 227 now. We had a crazy lifting schedule this summer, so I feel like I'm a lot stronger.
"I've got to be a more sound defender, not let my guy do anything."
While his senior season has yet to begin, it certainly sounds like Willis attacked the offseason the way he needed to in order to become what UK needs him to be.