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Derek Willis ready for return and continued rise as senior season approaches

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

After showing flashes of greatness in his breakout 2015-16 season, Derek Willis is looking for more as he enters his final year as a Wildcat.

The rise of Derek was key to UK 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.

In an interview with the Cats Pause, Willis' father confirmed that his son is returning for his senior season as he hopes to guide another talented Cats team to the Final Four.

To this point, there hasn't been any kind of official confirmation that Willis was returning, though it's been widely expected as he's poised for a big year for a UK team looking to contend for a title.

Monday, Willis's father, Del Willis, told Derek will return for his senior season.

"He knew 100 percent he was coming back," Willis said. "He's focused on working really hard this summer and coming back for his senior season."

Willis said his son returning to Lexington wasn't all about where he was projected to go in this summer's NBA Draft.

"I think Cal was going to look into it but the only thing he was looking at was what he needed to improve on," Willis said.

"Even if they said he would be a second-round pick, he still would have come back. He loves playing there and I told him, 'once you leave Kentucky, basketball won't be the same. It won't be as fun. It'll be more of a business and you'll just be another body. You'll never have another experience like the one you're having now."

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's 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 on anyone, especially a 20-year-old.

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. However, Willis will need to continue his emergence and make significant improvements if the Wildcats are to reach their ultimate goal in Banner No. 9.