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Get to Know Derek Willis

As the first member to join up with the 2013 recruiting class Derek Willis often seems to get lost in the shuffle. He’s not a McDonalds All-American that will make the leap to the NBA after one year. He didn’t burst on the scene in March like fellow in state talent Dominique Hawkins and captivate Big Blue Nation. What he is though is a Kentucky kid with game and one profiled this week by Eric Lindsey of

Derek Willis has a confession to make: He grew up a Louisville fan.

Born and raised in the Derby City, it was only natural for Willis to turn to the Cardinals. His parents grew up U of L fans, so he became one. He wore red and got into arguments with his Kentucky friends when Louisville played the Wildcats.

“We weren’t like diehard, like it’s U of L or nothing else … but yeah, we were Louisville fans — or I was growing up,” Willis said.

Now, Willis is a Kentucky Wildcat. The first signee of the star-studded 2013 recruiting class, Willis picked UK over Purdue, Indiana and his childhood team, U of L.

Why pass on the school he dreamed of playing for when it was a possibility? The choice was simple.

“It was the best option for me,” Willis said in an exclusive interview with “Every other school that recruited me, they were great schools, but I felt that Kentucky could do more for me and I had better opportunities here. I looked at the pros and cons of each as well as the other colleges too. Kentucky was just the better opportunity.”


When Willis signed with UK, he was considered one of the top 30 players in the country by several recruiting services. A long, athletic forward who could put the ball on the floor as well as beat you inside — Willis said he molds his game after Kevin Durant — he was considered a can’t-miss prospect in Kentucky’s own backyard.

None of those attributes ever faded for Willis after his decision to come to UK, but his ranking slowly did as Willis became a target for his competition. Much like the players experience at Kentucky when everyone tries to make a name for themselves against the Cats, Willis was the player everybody played a little harder against because he was the kid who was going to UK.

Willis knew all along it was always an honor to play at Kentucky, but there is also a burden that comes with it.

“When you’re going to a big college like I was, you have a bull’s eye on your back,” Willis said. “Any game back in high school that we had, I had people just like gunning for me. There was always someone trying to get me out of the game. I had to get used to it.”

Willis’ stats suffered just a bit and he learned to deal with the competition, as did his recruiting ranking. By the time his senior year rolled around, Willis had dropped outside the top 100. Willis said he noticed the fall, but he tried not to pay attention.


The profile is definitely worth a read. Willis sounds like a kid who knows what it means to wear the blue and white and a smart kid as he decided to bury his Cardinal roots. It’s going to be fun watch him develop into a superstar over the next four years.

[Willis proud he led heralded Kentucky recruiting train]

Article written by Andrew Cassady

Follow me @ACassady_KSR

23 Comments for Get to Know Derek Willis

  1. VinnyCent
    9:03 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Jarrod Carter 2.0 in the making.. Perhaps?

  2. Rei
    9:16 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    I think Willis could end up being a poor man’s Wiltjer. I already have a feeling he’ll have a better career than Hood. What a waste of a scholarship he turned out to be.

  3. Lil c
    9:27 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    You’re my boy Willis!! ( in my frank the tank voice). # 3 I love the fact he grew up a Tard fan and is now playing against them! Hilarious.

  4. Joe
    9:28 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    I am hoping he turns into another Scott Padgett. Give him time. Stop the negative posts – he is a Wildcat!

  5. lesigh
    9:31 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Derek will be fine. He won’t be all SEC, but he can help us win. I am hoping there is a little Jorts in him.

  6. garrett
    9:31 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Derek Willis can dribble, rebound, block, shoot, pass, play defense
    Wiltjer can shoot

  7. Bryan the Derpface
    9:38 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Derek will be fine; his ranking fall doesn’t scare me at all. He’ll have a year to elevate his game against the current team and will contribute significantly in 2014-15, no doubt.

  8. Bradley
    9:48 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Keep in mind he didn’t play AAU last year. That’s where players are evaluated for rankings. That’s the reason for such a drastic drop. He may not be top 30, but there aren’t near 100+ better.

  9. Big Perm
    10:03 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    I know an ex college player that trains kids from middle school all the way to pro ball (overseas players). He worked out Willis on several occasions. He told me Willis was a decent player but was in way over his head at UK. Said he never should have been rated as high as he was at one time. Said he would be a good player at a place like the BU Knights and would never get anything but mop up time here.

  10. SeaCat
    10:07 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    i feel sorry for this kid.

  11. SeaCat
    10:11 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Why does Cal take kids like this?
    Being a marketing genius, Cal is going
    for the sympathy vote, the easy money…

  12. Lil c
    10:11 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    It doesn’t matter if he ever dribbles the ball in a college game, Derrick Willis is getting a $80,000 FREE college education!!! Feel sorry for him? Not hardly!

  13. Lazy
    10:13 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    I talked to one of his team mates from B.E. this week. He spoke of Derek being to laid back and did not work hard. He did not work hard his last 2 season that is why he went backwards. The coaches pampered him. I watched many games and people did not treat him like he had a bulls eye on him. That is an excuse in my opinion. Very little effort was put out from him this season. I hope he turns it around now. But there was zero improvement from his junior to senior seasons. That’s on Derek. I am sure he is getting a wake up call now.

  14. Deacon
    10:58 pm July 30, 2013 Permalink

    Willis could benefit the most by Wiltjer’s transfer. It moves him to second team at the 3 position in practice ( assuming he can out-play Hood) and, therefore gives him a chance to prove himself during scrimmages in practice. Had Wiltjer stayed, Willis would not even scrimmage against the first team guys era in practice.
    PG A. Harrison. D. Hawkins
    SG. AA. Harrison. J.Young
    SF Poythress. Willis
    PF. Randle. Lee
    C. Cayley-Stein. Johnson

    Hood and Polson get no run.

  15. Dee W.
    12:13 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    13 – baloney on all points – very seriously doubt you spoke to one of his teammates. Willis was often flat out harassed on the court, yet was still a very dominant player. Bullitt East was invited to very prestigious national tournaments to compete.

    10,11 – you make absolutely no sense. “Why does Cal recruit good players for the team?”

    You people are nuts. Every single player on the team does not have to be a “one and done” or be a totally dominant player their first couple of years on the team to be a valuable recruit.

  16. Dee W.
    12:15 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    14 – actually I was thinking the same thing.

    3 – Rex Chapman also grew up a U of L fan.

  17. NB Man
    12:18 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    Feet right in Tony and Ryans face!

  18. Dee W.
    12:19 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    9 – I think I’ll listen more to his high school coach who knows a lot more about him and spent a lot more time with him than the person you claim to have talked to who supposedly once trained Willis some time ago.

  19. El Guapo
    4:06 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    I thought Wiltjer WAS a poor man’s player.

  20. musrat59
    4:56 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    I, personally think the young man will be a very good player for the Wildcats simply because he will get some excellent coaching.

  21. O T I S
    7:27 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    He will be a huge contributor and will shine in the NIT

  22. Chad
    9:03 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    Did anybody else stop reading this after he confessed to being a Louisville fan grouwing up?

  23. UK#9
    11:49 am July 31, 2013 Permalink

    I watched bullitt east play 13 games last season, and probably 10 his junior year. Willis is capable of being as good as he wants to be – with time. He needs to put on muscle. He needs to work on his inside game/footwork. He needs to get, for lack of a better word, “mean” when he plays – sort of like Randle does. Yes, his effort was not “all out all the time” in high school, but after signing with UK all he really needed to do was stay healthy. High school ball was his ticket to the next level, and he did what he set out to do. If he sets out to do it again, do not bet against the kid. Going from h.s. to UK is a big move for anyone EXCEPT these 1 and done guys we have been getting for the past 4 years. Troy Barr did a decent/ok job of coaching this kid at b.e., but now that he has Cal, O and Robic he will get the real coaching he deserves. He’s gonna be a great Cat, just you watch. You that choose to bash him now may be wearing a Willis jersey in 2016.