Tonight Derek Willis played his last basketball game for the University of Kentucky. In his four years at UK, the Bullitt County native become a beloved figure for fans. Throughout his up-and-down career, one man got to see it from a unique perspective.
Derek Willis, a journalist for ProPublica, was often mistaken for the basketball player by Kentucky fans. @DerekWillis received many of the messages meant for @Derek_Willis33. After the basketball player’s career ended, the journalist thanked the forward for taking him on a remarkable ride.
For past 4 years I’ve been occasionally mistaken on Twitter for @derek_willis33, a Kentucky basketball player with the same name. I’ve always been a huge college basketball fan & I knew about UK’s standing among great programs. I knew nothing about #BBN, though.
At first I was kinda annoyed; this kid with my name hadn’t played a college game & he was already stealing my Google SEO. I get it: basketball recruiting is huge & UK basketball is even bigger. But hey, I’ve been on the Web since 1995. This was my turf!
Once @derek_willis33 started getting playing time, I started getting tweets. Not always praise, but more than I would have thought. He was a raw talent – tall, skinny, liked to shoot the 3 – and I figured he might just be a role player on a very talented team. Which is why I was stunned by the reaction of #BBN, the Kentucky fanbase.
Y’all were unbelievably nice, esp when I started to respond. When I say “nice” I mean nice on Twitter. Think about that. They had no reason at all to be nice. I was intruding into their space. People who were nasty mostly didn’t use his (or my) twitter handle, which I guess is a blessing. He’s a college senior, after all. College kids do dumb things. I did. The least of them happen on the basketball court, in my experience, even in the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, @derek_willis33 got the chance of a young lifetime to play UK basketball. But he’s got a lifetime ahead. #BBN has his back. And even though we’ve never met, I want to thank @derek_willis33 for being a good sport & for allowing me a glimpse of #BBN. It has been maybe the weirdest fun time I’ve had online & I won’t forget it. Good luck to you & #BBN, and thanks.